Off Beat

A Real Page Turner

DAVID UNOWSKY, OWNER of St. Paul's Ruminator bookstore, has been busy of late. In addition to gearing up for the May 21 grand opening of Ruminator's downtown Minneapolis outlet in the Open Book literary center, Unowsky has been publicly railing against Victoria Plaza, a proposed $9 million, 30,000-square-foot retail/parking-lot development about a mile east of his store on Grand Avenue. The bookseller even made an appearance at last Wednesday's St. Paul City Council meeting, where council members voted 4-3 to overturn the city Planning Commission's approval of the project. According to Unowsky, who distributed a petition that was signed by 75 neighborhood businesses opposed to the development, the proposed mall would damage the character of Grand Avenue's already congested retail district. "This is going to make it into a linear Mall of America," he claims. James Stolpestad, principal of the investment group aiming to develop the site, concedes that some of the concerns that have been raised--including increased traffic and inadequate parking--are legitimate. "There's lots of neighbors and lots of concerns, ranging from the serious to the silly," he notes. Among the latter, Stolpestad maintains, is Unowsky's opposition, which, the developer suggests, is less civic-minded than it appears. If the mall comes to fruition, a key tenant will be a 14,000-square-foot outlet of an Albuquerque bookstore called Bound to Be Read, which is owned by the Hubbard family. That would be Hubbard Broadcasting, Inc., whose media empire includes St. Paul-based KSTP-TV (Channel 5). "Every time there's been a bookstore proposal on Grand Avenue for the last ten years, Mr. Unowsky has been out there self-servingly opposing it," says Stolpestad. "He was just acting true to form." Unowsky readily admits that he's sensitive to the threat of competition, but he takes issue with the developer's characterization of Bound to Be Read as an "independent" bookseller: "I guess you could call it independent--if you consider a store owned by a multinational, multibillion-dollar media conglomerate as independent." While Stolpestad and Unowsky may differ when it comes to semantics, they agree that the Victoria Plaza brouhaha is far from settled. Though Stolpestad declines to comment on his next move, he has made noises about filing a lawsuit. Despite his side's modest victory last week, Unowsky says, "This is just one battle in what promises to be a long war."

The Lonely Life of a Reader Rep

OFF BEAT WAS taking bets around the office last week on whether Star Tribune reader representative Lou Gelfand would weigh in with one of his patented Sunday "TheStar Tribune Generally Doesn't Name Suspects Until They Are Charged" columns to address his newspaper's choice to identify the three young men who'd been arrested for the April 26 murder of Tony Basta. (As near as Off Beat can tell, the Strib has explained such a deviation from its "general" policy in precisely one story in the past year. A March piece about accused sexual molester and state Rep. Jim Rostberg contained this startling passage: "The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects before charges are filed, but is doing so in this case because Rostberg is a public official.") According to our quick database tally, Gelfand has dealt with the matter seven times in the past two years, dutifully explaining to readers that there are numerous exceptions to the policy--including high-profile cases, cases in which there's no doubt who did the deed (e.g., a crime that happened in a public place), cases in which the suspect is a public official, and cases in which police or politicians have "thrust the suspect into the limelight." Gelfand took to the chalkboard most recently on April 16, after the Strib identified a man before he was charged with a pair of murders. "'You tell us why you don't name a suspect,'" Gelfand quoted a reader as saying, "'why wouldn't you tell us why when you do?'" As he has done in the past, the reader rep let assistant managing editor Paul Klauda field the question: "It has not been our practice to cite the policy exceptions in stories that name suspects before charging," Klauda offered. Duh. Gelfand closed the matter by opining, for the third time in the past year, "Why not tell readers how newsroom decisions are made? It is a sure way to increase credibility." Is the poor man getting tired of his admonitions falling on deaf ears? "Those are management decisions," Gelfand tells Off Beat, deftly evading the question. "I'm not at management meetings, so I'm not really part of those discussions."

 
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