Off Beat

La-Di-Da

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING may be something of an oxymoron, but occasionally Off Beat comes across a claim that leaves us no choice but to lunge for the Rolodex and demand an explanation. Case in point: A recent advertisement in the Star Tribune gloating about its online enterprise, startribune.com. "Meet all your home needs," reads the ad copy, "at the Twin Cities' only nationally recognized website." Modesty has never been the greatest virtue of The Newspaper of the Twin Cities-- but what, we wondered, could have prompted this hyperbolic bit of dot-com chest-puffing? According to Strib VP Frank Parisi, the ad was a tacit reference to the honors startribune.com received from the national trade magazine Editor & Publisher, which named it one of the nation's top three newspaper Web sites the past two years running. "We think it says a lot about who the hell we are and what we're doing," gushes Parisi. "It's an independent evaluation," he adds. "It's not me telling you that my kids are good-looking." Well, confreakinggratulations. But the Strib is hardly the only dot-com player in fly-over land to make its mark. Just last month the Utne Reader site at cafe.utne.com snagged a Webby--the cyberspace equivalent of an Oscar. And the Walker Art Center (walkerart.org) has snagged scads of awards for its efforts, including a 1998 best-site honor from the International Museum Association. Then again, that's international recognition, not national.

Bess Guess

OFF BEAT HAS been puzzling over the discrepancy between architecture professor Philip Bess's $150 million cost estimate for a cozy new privately funded home for the Minnesota Twins and the (more than one-third bigger) number being bandied about by members of New Ballpark, Inc., the incipient consortium of local businessmen led by local Norwest CEO Jim Campbell and--until last Friday--Star Tribune publisher John Schueler. So we called Bess. "That's a ballpark figure," quoth the prof (with what could only have been a straight face). "Any hard numbers can only be a result of some specific design work." And according to Bess, that $150 million takes into account construction costs only--i.e., not the cost of land acquisition or related infrastructure. That doesn't quite jibe with what Bess told us last summer: In Tom Goldstein's September 8, 1999 cover story "Ballpark Frankness," Bess indicated that $150 million would cover all the costs. "I don't know what to tell you, because that's not something that is possible at this point to know," Bess says today. "A hundred-fifty million dollars is a generous cost-construction estimate. I'm in no position to make an estimate of what it would cost with land acquisition." But heck, we're not of a mind to split hairs if there's a chance this stadium might actually get built--at no cost to us! So while we've got Bess on the horn, we ask him if he thinks it stands a chance. Well, he tells us, he has been retained by various parties in stadium efforts across the nation, including Seattle and Arlington, Texas. "I would say in both of those circumstances my suggestions and point of view were not heeded," he allows. In Minneapolis, he continues, he's encouraged by the interest. "But I have no indication that the Twins are on my wavelength."

A Bit of a...Flap

NORTHWEST AIRLINES MADE front-page news out West last week, when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a member of the company's board of directors was at the center of a possible conflict of interest involving a controversial plan to expand runways at San Francisco International Airport. According to the story, Richard Blum owns six percent of Northwest, as well as a major chunk of the San Francisco-based engineering firm URS Corp., which has been retained by the Federal Aviation Administration to prepare a report on the potential environmental impact of using as much as 2.5 square miles of landfill to construct runways in San Francisco Bay. (Blum is also married to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has no direct involvement in the proposed airport expansion but who may vote on general matters that relate to funding.) Spokesmen for Northwest and URS pooh-poohed the issue, noting that the airline isn't a major presence in San Francisco. But environmentalists, as well as some ethicists, don't like the looks of Blum's role one bit. If you've got a taste for stories that squint suspiciously at NWA, put this in your Web browser--www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2000/06/12/MN6659.DTL--and smoke it.

 
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