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Scare Tactics

An auto insurer offers a piece of the crock.

Tourism types worried about Harvey Pekar's characterizations of Cleveland ought to consider what the Western Reserve Group of Insurance Companies has to say about the town. During a recent radio broadcast of an Ohio State football game, a Western Reserve Group ad warned motorists about the perils of not locking their car doors. "By the way, if you are visiting a large city like Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati, the odds can be one in five that your car will be stolen," the ad stated.

But are Cleveland and her big, bad sisters really that lawless? Bill Blincoe, Western Reserve's marketing VP, could not identify the source of the stat. He guessed that it came from a trade group, like the Ohio Insurance Institute. So Punch contacted the Ohio Insurance Institute and was steered toward a 2002 press release on a 10-percent increase in auto thefts statewide. The one-in-five stat is nowhere to be found. According to the institute, the chance of an auto getting swiped in Cleveland is 1 in 56.

Western Reserve Group's ad is doubly bogus when you consider that the odds were derived by dividing the number of reported thefts by the number of registered vehicles. The 1-in-56 stat, then, applies more to residents than to Playhouse Square visitors.

So while the source remains a mystery, Blincoe was sufficiently dazzled by Punch's actuarial skills. "I'll pull the copy, and we'll get it reviewed and corrected," he vowed.

Let the tourism dollars flow!

Forward progress
With exactly one winning season in the last 15 years, Kent State has earned its reputation as one of the nation's premier football patsies.

How bad has it gotten? The KSU basketball team now has pigskin bragging rights on campus. That's because Antonio Gates, a 6-foot-5 basketball player who powered the Flashes to 20-win seasons each of the past two years, is now playing football with the San Diego Chargers. The undrafted free agent was activated after week 1, when the Chargers' top two tight ends went down with injuries. Gates has caught passes in each of the past two games, and was a starter last week against Jacksonville.

At Kent, Gates averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds on a team that surged into the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA Tournament. But football? He hadn't played since high school.

"He's got good hands," says a Chargers flack. "[Head coach] Marty Schottenheimer talks about him quite a bit." Last month, Gates was one of four "players of interest" noted in an NFL.com feature on undrafted free agents.

Meanwhile, Kent's Jennifer Melnyk is having a standout season on the women's field hockey team. Watch for her name on an NFL roster sometime next spring.

Welcome to politics, kid
A group of West Side skateboarders got a crash course in local government -- with emphasis on the crash. Seventeen-year-old Jimmy Diamond and about a dozen other Old Brooklyn skaters spent months lobbying Councilwoman Merle Gordon to locate a new Cleveland skatepark at W.C. Reed Park on Denison Avenue.

Initially, Gordon refused to even hear the kids' arguments, only agreeing to a meeting after Punch called her out last June. Diamond and friends finally got their chance to haggle last month. After an hour, Gordon assured them she would give their proposal serious consideration.

What they didn't know is that Gordon had already voted to build the skatepark downtown, at George Voinovich Park near the Rock Hall -- a fact she neglected to mention as the kids made their case. Apparently, dressing up the lakefront takes precedence over convenience for the park's users. That many are too young to vote doesn't help.

"We were really discouraged about it," says Diamond. "But we're not stopping. One person can't stop us."

That building's closed
The house lights have gone down at the Madstone Centrum, and they may not be coming up soon. The Coventry Road movie theater, an architectural anchor for the East Side neighborhood, was a money pit for Madstone, the New York company that arrived in January 2001. Cleveland was its first theater; it is now the first to be shuttered.

"I don't know the reason. I thought they were doing well," says building owner Charles Zuchowski, who learned from Punch that the theater had closed on October 1.

Signs of trouble were clear by late spring. That's when Madstone cut staff and announced a departure from its formula of programming artsy movies and movie-related events in favor of more mainstream Hollywood fare. On the theater's final day, it offered three films that appeared at every multiplex in town.

"There were lots of things that we learned in Cleveland that proved to be difficult," says Madstone spokeswoman Eda Kapsis. The big three: The theater's three screens were too few, the space could not be renovated to accommodate a desired café and lounge, and Coventry was a purgatory for parking. The fact that it's surrounded by the Cinematheque, the art museum, Shaker Square Cinemas, and the Cedar Lee Theatre allowed little extra breeze to keep its art-house banner aloft.

Meanwhile, Madstone continues to prosper in its eight other markets. This lends credence to one local film hound's take on the problem: It's the building's fault. "That thing's got a curse on it," he says. "It's like the Gehry building."

Gray menace
South Euclid officials are trying to harass the young'uns and their two-wheelers, but are ignoring older, fatter, and potentially more dangerous rollers. Discussion of an ordinance that will outlaw the popular motorized stand-up scooters from public streets has begun. Some residents have been complaining about noise and the danger to pedestrians.

But the current draft of the ordinance does not consider The Rascal, a motorized four-wheeled scooter typically driven by the elderly and fat people in poor health.

"The scooters can go up to 20, 25 miles per hour, so there is some concern about where they belong," says Mayor John Kocevar.

But young scooter riders have youth on their side. Oldsters experience slower response time, less acute vision and hearing, and lax concentration. A gray Andretti on a 225-pound vehicle can break a lot of ankles. Punch has been goosed and had many a shin skinned by motorized Magoos ripping through the strip mall.

The South Euclid police have no record of any wound-by-Rascal incidents, but who's gonna file charges? These people are tethered to motorized trikes with hydraulics, so life's hard enough.

Money can't buy laughs
Punch has lately been confounded by billboards around Greater Cleveland that show portraits of two 1970s-era boys, with the words "Ugly Kids" and nothing more. That these particular kids are homely is beyond dispute. But Punch hears the billboard is setting up a gag, something like, "Ugly kids grow up to be deejays." The boys in question, it seems, are local radio personalities, pictured in what must have been a tortured youth.

A ClearChannel marketing person confirmed that the company is sponsoring the campaign, but refused to confirm the punch line, saying only that Punch was "close" to solving the mystery.

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