Yesterday the City of Calgary approved the purchase of the Cecil Hotel for $10.9 million. The Cecil Hotel, which sits at the entrance of downtown Calgary when entering from the east using Memorial Drive, has developed a notorious reputation, known as a magnet for drug dealing, prostitution, and violence. According to the city of Calgary responded to 1700 police calls at the Cecil last year (as quoted in the December 16, 2008 article entitled "City to pay $10.9 million for Cecil"). In defending the price tag the city will pay for the Cecil, Mayor Dave Bronconnier said "There is no question there was, in fact, a premium put on the acquisition, but I think when you look at long-term, 1700 police calls are not inexpensive either." The city plans to tear down the Cecil Hotel, potentially replacing it with a parkade.
While many people are concerned with a price tag of the purchase (and the use of tax payer money), I think the city needs to also consider the effects of displacing the people who stay and live at the Cecil. This does not appear to be something the city has seriously considered. In fact, in recent months the city has opposed the development of additional space to house the Mustard Seed and Inn From The Cold (both of which assist homeless and low income individuals and families). On the corner where the Cecil sits, the city recently closed the tavern in the Cecil Hotel and Beer Land, a liquor store which was frequented by individuals of low-income. All of this has been part of the city's plan to clean up downtown and attract more commerce and people into the core.
At the same time as these closures have taken place, there has been an increase in crime in the surrounding neighborhoods of Bridgeland, Renfrew, and Inglewood. Recent statistics show that, for example, break-ins in these areas have increased from two per month to seven per month. Moreover, if one takes a drive through the residential areas of Bridgeland (north of the downtown core) one notices many more people hanging out in back alleys and drinking during the day.
While I think it's important that Calgary make an effort to revitalize downtown, it seems the city is only partially addressing the issue with its current policies. This has been the mistake made by other towns (e.g., San Jose ,California) where cleaning up one part of the city (e.g., downtown) necessarily involves moving those problems to another part of the city. This is a shortsighted approach as it doesn't address the fundamental causes (poverty, drug and alcohol addiction) that motivate city Council to clean up the downtown. Personally, I would've liked to see the city take a more proactive approach, perhaps purchasing the Cecil allowing but using it for low income housing while providing counseling and training services to the individuals who frequent the area. It seems to me that this is a more complete approach to "cleaning up downtown.".