WHEW! SEARCH FOR E.T. CAN GO ON

April 22, 2004 12:00 am

Paul Allen is a giving man.

Recently, he donated more than $13 million to the Search of Extraterrestrial Intelligence, commonly known as SETI, to help this group find space aliens via radio telescopes.

Allen also built, at the cost of $240 million, the Experience Music Project in the Seattle Center, a strangely designed dedication to Allen's childhood idol, Jimi Hendrix, plopped down at the base of the Space Needle like a giant fistful of multi-colored Play-doh.

Allen's Portland Trail Blazers for years also had the highest payroll in the NBA. Those big salaries paid to Shawn Kemp, Bonzi Wells and Rasheed Wallace resulted in a lot of early playoff exits and even more acrimony between the team and the community. The Blazers are still trying to sweep up the public relations wreckage of that mess.

These extravagant expenses of an eccentric billionaire would be humorous except for some of the other financial moves Allen has been making recently.

Last year, 90 Trail Blazers employees were laid off a few weeks after Allen's Vulcan Inc. laid off 100 employees.

Then, earlier this year, Allen's Oregon Arena Corp., which owns the Rose Garden, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, forcing more than a dozen major creditors to battle with the company in court to receive monies owed.

And Allen's own branchild, the EMP? The museum laid off 129 people this year, after laying off 46 last year and 124 in 2002.

That's nearly 500 people laid off at Allen companies over the past two years. Somehow, in the face of all these problems, Allen scrounged up the millions for an important cause — helping "scientists" look for "E.T." We're sure all those laid-off employees and creditors will be pleased to know that their lost wages and monies are going to a worthy cause.

To be fair, Allen has donated millions to worthy causes over the years, but his recent expenditures and financial dealings are stretching the definition of eccentric to downright flaky.

Maybe someone ought to tell Allen that "Contact" was just a movie. Jodi Foster isn't really a scientist, and the aliens out there really aren't her long-lost dad.