Off Beat

Your Tax Dollars at Work!

MINDFUL OF OFF Beat's predilection for wackiness on the Internet, a reader sent an e-mail alerting us to ci.minneapolis.mn.us/citywork/ez/, a city-operated Web site that aims to educate the populace about Minneapolis's status as a so-called Urban Empowerment Zone. Millions of dollars in federal aid each year...federal strategy to revitalize distressed neighborhoods...49,000 residents and 19 neighborhoods...blah, blah, blah. Whatever. The kick is that visitors are invited to send e-postcards from the Empowerment Zone to their friends! There are 15 postcard options from which to choose (photo of the Whittier neighborhood, rendering of the planned Hollman redevelopment, painting of a tree...), numerous headings ("Greetings from the Minneapolis Empowerment Zone," "Wish You Were Here," etc.), and even options for sign-offs. You can also write your own message. But wait! There's more! Senders can select from an assortment of canned background music--full-length instrumental versions of 30 all-time favorites, performed on a synthesizer. There's the theme from Beetlejuice, and "Roll Over Beethoven," and "Hotel California." There's even Strauss's "Wiener Walzer." Some of the song choices, though, seem to carry dubiously appropriate meanings. What compelled the city, Off Beat wondered, to include the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? And what Empowerment-type message is one sending with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" ("I'm just a poor boy/Nobody loves me")? How about "Don't Worry, Be Happy" ("Landlord say your rent is late/He gonna have to litigate")? Or "Yesterday" ("...all my troubles seemed so far away/Now it looks as though they're here to stay")? Brian Wold, the city's Web coordinator, chuckles nervously when reached by Off Beat. "Oh my God," he says, "I wasn't aware that there was music still up there." The postcard feature comes courtesy of a stock software program from MyPostcards.com, Wold explains. "I was under the impression that we were not going to use music, which is just a standard list on the software. We never want to detract from the message of the Empowerment Zone."

Double Your Pleasure

"MORE COUPONS! MORE Savings!" read the sign in front of the Star Tribune rack at the grocery store. Alongside the stacks of normal-looking Sunday Stribs sat a different bundle--a "two-pack" consisting of one early edition of the Sunday paper (the so-called bulldog edition) and one final edition. The price tag on the pair of papers, which retail for $1.75 apiece: $2.10. So people can pay an extra 35 cents, throw away all that worthless newsprint, and grab the coupons--what a concept! But does it sell (and thus provide further proof that Off Beat made the correct move when we opted not to pursue a career in marketing)? Star Tribune communications VP Frank Parisi, who confesses he knew nothing of the promotion until we called it to his attention, says the two-pack has been offered on and off over the past year in select Supervalu grocery stores and Holiday gas stations. "This is not a widespread test," adds Parisi, who, alas, couldn't supply any sales figures. "The jury's still out as to whether it's a good plan."

The Writing Is on the Wall

A FAMILIAR MATTER arose at the September 22 meeting of the Near Northside Implementation Committee--the group of Minneapolis officials seeing to it that spiffy new abodes replace the swath of low-income housing demolished in compliance with the federal Hollman decree. Bill Smith, a consultant with the urban-planning and design firm Biko Associates, said the fates of the social-service agencies that continue to take up space on the site remain unclear. City officials have been attempting since July to ascertain which of the agencies--if any--should remain once the anticipated higher class of resident settles in. Representatives from four groups have yet to be interviewed, Smith said. Summit Academy O.I.C. refuses to participate in the process "by their choice," he added without elaborating. (Summit, which provides educational and vocational training, recently spent $2 million in federal grant money to purchase and refurbish its training center on Olson Memorial Highway; for more background see "Off the Map," in our July 19 issue.) Most of the groups had agreed that rather than relocate to individual spaces, it would be smarter to share a single building as city officials had suggested; many had begun discussing what new services they might offer, Smith noted, given that the neighborhood's new residents (pause) "will have more money." At this Cora McCorvey, executive director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, spoke up. Most of the agencies don't own their current spaces, she said--the city does. And if the new community has no need for their services, then the city can't "justify" supporting them in a new building. Speechless, Smith looked down at his papers. It doesn't get much clearer than that.

 
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