Vancouver looks to generate some Games pizazz

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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - With the Winter Games just over a month away, promotional banners finally began going up on Wednesday in Vancouver, where "no parking" signs have been the most prominent street level signal the city was soon to play host to the Olympics and the world.

Newspaper ads have also advised residents on being on their best behavior for the thousands of visitors, reporters and athletes who will soon begin arriving on Canada's Pacific Coast for the Games, which begin February 12.

"We want to create some excitement for the Games," said Vancouver city spokeswoman Lesli Boldt as crews began to hang the first of 6,000 banners that will adorn major roadways around the city.

Vancouver and the co-host resort community of Whistler have been busy preparing for the event since being awarded the Games in 2003. But away from the immediate Olympic venues and sites, visitors would be hard-pressed to find evidence that a big international sporting event was about to take place.

Aside from the large Olympic rings outside Vancouver's airport, the most prominent signs of what is coming have been hundreds of notices warning residents they will not be able to park along major transportation routes as of February 4.

Vancouver city officials and local Games organizers deny they have been slow in trying to pump up the pizazz and give the community the look and feel of an Olympic host city.

"I don't think so. People were busy with the Christmas holidays ... we've got a month to go and this is when the preparations are happening," Boldt said.

The blue, green and white banners featuring Olympic and Paralympic sports, along with abstract images of local mountains and the waterfront, are designed to show "Vancouver's flair and Winter Games spirit," according to the city.

But a resident walking past the banner-hanging event admitted she would not have realized the banners were related to the Olympics had it not been for the gaggle of reporters gathered on the sidewalk.

"They're pretty. Not offensive in any way. But do they make me feel more Olympic? No, not really," Kim Donaldson told Reuters.

A Vancouver newspaper carried a four-page advertisement from the city on Wednesday giving local residents key information about the Games and offering tips on how to welcome visitors.

Among the items of advice: learn where the competition venues are located, and help visitors who appear to be lost.

Competitions for hockey, curling, skating and snowboarding will be held in the immediate Vancouver area, while those for nordic skiing, alpine skiing and bobsled will be held in Whistler, about 125 km (80 miles) away.

(Reporting by Allan Dowd; editing by Rob Wilson)