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Over-budget convention centre an ‘economic powerhouse’: Premier

Premier Gordon Campbell spoke of huge economic benefits for B.C. as he presided over today’s grand opening of the massively over-budget Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre expansion.

“Thank goodness that we have such a spectacular facility that will drive economic activity for years into the future,” he told reporters after wielding a pair of large scissors to cut the ribbon. “It’s a real economic powerhouse we’re standing in today.”

Campbell estimated the gleaming steel and glass structure with sweeping views of the North Shore Mountains will bring $2 billion worth of economic activity to the province.

That’s because 180 conventions have already been booked between now and the end of 2009, said federal international trade minister Stockwell Day, who was on hand for the opening. The facility will also become home to the broadcast centre for the 2010 Olympics.

Day was adamant all the attention will boost tourism to Vancouver and B.C. “People will arrive here as delegates and leave here as ambassadors,” he said.

Meanwhile, NDP MLA Adrian Dix called the convention expansion a “financial disaster."

The original price tag was $495 million, which included a capped federal injection to share the cost. In the end, expenditures rose to $883 million, leaving the province on the hook for almost $400 million.

“This is the largest overrun of any public project in B.C. history,” Dix told The Tyee in an interview before the opening. “That money is now spent and gone.”

Campbell’s Liberal government is to blame for squandering public dollars on a poorly planned project that could have gone to healthcare or transportation, he said. The premier countered that cost overruns are due to spikes in steel and construction costs over the last few years.

A 2007 Auditor General’s report suggested last-minute building changes and a rush to meet a tight Winter Games deadline helped costs balloon.

Come 2010, the centre will host 10,000 accredited media, though the expansion is not included in the B.C. government’s Olympic budget.

Last month, finance minister Colin Hansen said a projected economic impact of $10.7 billion from the Games is being revised due to the recession. The number is the highest estimate from a 2002 InterVISTAS study and includes a projected $5.6 billion windfall from the convention centre expansion.

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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