Off Beat

Run Out of Town on a Rail?

LAST MONTH MAYOR Norm Coleman stood atop a faux caboose at the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and laid out his grand vision for the future of the city: Gondolas ferrying folks across the Mississippi River, a year-round farmers' market, and a new sports stadium for every man, woman, and child. Among the laundry list of projects the lame-duck mayor proposed was a plan to reopen the Union Depot to rail traffic for the first time since 1971. Coleman wants to reroute Amtrak's Chicago-to-Seattle Empire Builder through the depot and eventually transform the building into a transportation hub. Apparently, though, Hizzoner forgot to consult a crucial constituency before hatching his plan: the building's current occupants. Specifically Gus Parpas, owner of Christos Union Depot Place, the anchor tenant in the depot's Grand Hall. In a letter to Coleman last month, Parpas complained that opening the building to rail traffic would crush his restaurant and catering business. In order to reach the concourse, Parpas pointed out, rail passengers would have to traipse through the area Christos currently uses for banquets. And while some restaurateurs might consider that a boon, Parpas isn't one of them. He built his business over the past five years by using the Great Hall's majestic neoclassical architecture as a lure for wedding receptions and other parties--affairs that accounted for 60 percent of his business last year,and he expects that figure to climb to 70 percent in 2001. The increased foot traffic that train service would bring will scare newlyweds away, he fears. To bolster that claim, Parpas asserted that the 1999 Titanic exhibit at the depot led to a 15 percent drop in revenue. If his restaurant is run out of town, Parpas concluded, he expects to be compensated. "Given the investment in Christos, its rate of growth, and the 15 years remaining on its lease, the amount of such compensation would be substantial," he warned Coleman, noting that unlike some restaurants in downtown St. Paul, Christos made its mark without taking a dime in public subsidies. "The sentiment that I get from people who live in the neighborhood is, 'We don't want a damn train station in our neighborhood,'" Parpas tells Off Beat. "Who wants an Amtrak station in their back yard?" A call to the mayor's office had not been returned by press time.

Off Beat Loves an Underdog

"MARYLAND IS OFF in St. Paul at a secluded hotel," wrote ESPN's Andy Katz last Friday in a Final Four preview column. Upon reading this, Off Beat decided it was our duty to uncover this remote location. After beating the reportorial bushes all day Friday, we found our way to the Radisson Hotel in downtown St. Paul, where, despite the secluded location, about 2000 Maryland Terrapin fans were holding a pep rally in a basement banquet hall. Having been less than successful in our attempt to convince the nice woman at the entrance that we were part of a Major Media Outlet she'd regret not letting in the door, we shelled out the $10 cover charge and waded into the sea of red and white pom-poms. One cocktail later we found ourselves transfixed by two seemingly respectable middle-aged men wearing Terrapin T-shirts and homemade pith helmets adorned with crude drawings of turtles. As TV news cameras rolled, they screamed something about the Duke Blue Devils that we couldn't understand and that probably isn't fit for publication anyway. We got chummy with a jovial '84 Maryland alum from Charlotte, North Carolina, who suddenly became despondent when we informed him that the bars in the Twin Cities close at 1:00 a.m. "That's too early!" he cried. Time for another cocktail. Soon all 2,000 of us were engaged in a chant: "Duke sucks! We're gonna beat the hell out of Duke!" Off Beat got so caught up in the fun of shaking our pom-pom that we might well have lost our journalistic objectivity entirely, were it not for the fact that none of the revelers responded to our repeated pleas for a "Fear the Turtle" T-shirt of our very own.