Thu, Feb 12, 2009 - Page 18 News List

Vancouver looks for boost but fears drugs and violence

AFP , VANCOUVER

Vancouver’s tourist areas like Gastown and Stanley Park are being spruced up and hotel and restaurant owners are expecting to be at full capacity during next year’s Winter Olympics.

But the city’s violent, drug-fueled underbelly remains a major concern to residents as Vancouver marks the one-year countdown to the Games that begin on Feb. 12 next year.

“We are almost completely booked,” said Ellen Leung, head of sales and marketing at the downtown LeSoleil Hotel.

Leung said there has been such high demand that almost all of their 109 rooms have been booked up by corporations who are willing to sign non-refundable contracts for their stays.

Restaurant manager Chris Pappas said this is one of the best things to happen to the city in a long time.

But he’s angry that opponents of the Olympics might spoil the Games.

“We are getting excited,” said Pappas, who runs a restaurant in the suburb of Burnaby. “The Olympics are going to help get the economy going.”

“But the protesters, homeless and drug addicts are trying to ruin it for everyone. It is a beautiful city but it’s becoming more dangerous,” he said.

Pappas expects his restaurant near the figure skating venue (Pacific Coliseum) to be busy.

“When we had the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships a couple of years ago and the World Figure Skating Championships, we were really busy. We are expecting a lot more people for the Olympics,” he said.

“It is going to put Vancouver on the map. People will come here and see we have the ocean, mountains, and a lot of good restaurants and hotels,” Pappas said.

One sector of the community that may not be getting very excited about the Olympics is the residents of the eastern half of the downtown.

The east side is considered one of Canada’s poorest communities and has a high rate of drug use and crime.

“The cost of a ticket for the opening ceremony is C$1,182 [US$947],” Wendy Pederson, of the Carnegie Community Action Project, told the Vancouver Sun. “A single person on welfare gets just C$610 [US$489] a month.”

Anna Jones of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society said her big fear is the police will take a heavy-handed approach to the homeless as the Games get closer to make sure they aren’t visible during the Olympics.

“My big fear is that people are going to be spending a lot of time in jail for petty crimes instead of getting the help they need,” she said.

Other locals fear visitors may leave with an image of a city struggling to cope with violent crime.

The Vancouver Sun on Tuesday published the results of a survey in which 72 percent of city residents described gang violence as a “very serious problem.”

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