EXCHANGE District boosters are dismissing concerns the downtown is plagued by violent crime, despite two slayings in as many months.
The most recent victim was Johndrick Tan, 19, who was remembered yesterday as a member of Youth for Christ and the valedictorian of his class at St. John's High School.
He was beaten to death about 2:15 a.m. Sunday outside the Vertigo dance club, at Princess Street and Bannatyne Avenue.
City officials and business leaders said the death was a tragic but isolated incident that could have happened outside a nightclub anywhere in the city.
But they admit that violent crime -- and the public attention that follows -- hurts the Exchange District's efforts to attract homeowners, retail shops, commercial ventures and customers of restaurants and clubs.
"If you talk to the Winnipeg police, they will say, statistically speaking, we have a safe downtown," said Lisa Holowchuk, executive director of the Exchange District Business Improvement Zone. "It's perception, not reality."
Holowchuk also noted the Exchange District Biz will launch volunteer foot patrols early next month, although the patrols won't likely be on duty when the district's six or seven nightclubs let out.
In early April, a 32-year-old man was shot to death at another Bannatyne Avenue nightclub, Lot One 15, following a dispute with an alleged gang member.
Last March, a 42-year-old street person was severely beaten outside city hall.
And, last July, several Winnipeg Blue Bombers found themselves embroiled in a street fight outside Lot One 15 after leaving the club.
CentreVenture's Annitta Stenning said violent crime happens all over the city, including Charleswood, where a man had his hand severed in a machete attack over the weekend. Downtown crime seems to get more press because of efforts to reinvigorate the core.
"When you're on the radar, it magnifies every event," she said. "We have made tremendous progress."
The key is making the downtown a 24-hour destination, and several planned condo and apartment projects in historic buildings will boost safety and rid the downtown of its dangerous reputation, says Stenning.
Doug Clark, executive director of the Downtown BIZ, said recent violent crimes won't damage the city's campaign to lure condo owners and renters out of the suburbs and into the core.
"Winnipeg is a big city, and the downtown is a place where all kinds of people -- rich and poor, all kinds of ethnic groups -- mix," he said. "It's a gathering place, instead of a protected little suburban enclave."
Clark suggested the district's nightclubs develop their own foot patrols to ensure the streets are safe, especially when the bars let out in the wee hours.
Homicide unit Staff Sgt. Terry Desmond said investigators want witnesses to Tan's death to call them at 986-6508. They especially want to know of any incidents inside Vertigo that could have led to the attack.
He said the slaying was not gang related, but it wasn't random, either.
"There were various people involved who were familiar with one another to some degree," Desmond said, declining to elaborate.
There had been no arrests as of last night.
Tan's family remembered yesterday that when Johndrick left home to go to the bar with his friends on Saturday night, his father reminded him to be home early because the next day was Mother's Day.
"Don't worry Dad, I will be," Tan replied.
Yesterday, friends and relatives of the victim gathered at his north-end home, where he had lived with his mother, Regina, and father, Charlie. His only sibling, Joscelynn Tan, lived by herself.
Lourdes McArthur, Tan's aunt, described her nephew as "a sweet young man" and devoted son to his parents.
"He never had any trouble and then this happens," McArthur said.
The boy's parents sat alone in an upstairs room, while McArthur and other relatives and friends took turns explaining that Tan was a normal kid who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He was valedictorian at his high school graduation, a member of Youth for Christ at St. Joseph's Catholic Church and an avid reader of the Bible, McArthur said.
Tan worked as a cook at a Fort Garry sports bar, but he dreamed of becoming an architect, she said.
McArthur said she still didn't know precisely what happened the night Tan died, except that he had been in the Vertigo nightclub in the Exchange District with four of his friends.
Some of those friends were among a group of about 15 young men outside Tan's house yesterday, but they refused to talk about what happened. One of them showed the marks of having been in a fight.
McArthur said all she knows is that two of Tan's friends left the bar around 2:15 a.m. and got inside their car parked nearby. Tan and two other friends were following shortly after when the fight broke out in a crowd of about 30 people.
Whatever the cause of the fight, McArthur said Tan weighed only 120 pounds and was not a fighter.
"He wasn't offensive in any way," she said. "No one who knew him would want to hurt him."
She said Tan had been friends with the same group since kindergarten. She described them all as "normal kids" who held jobs and lived responsibly.
The funeral will be held Monday at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, 355 Andrews St.
PHOTO JEFF DEBOOY/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS