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September 12, 2013

Downtown Traverse City could host free Wi-Fi

TRAVERSE CITY — Two city agencies will move ahead on a proposal to build a free-to-the-user Wi-Fi Internet system to cover downtown Traverse City and the Open Space at an expected cost of $500,000 to $600,000.

Board members for Traverse City Light & Power instructed their staff to work with the city’s Downtown Development Authority to create a formal proposal. It’s the first time the utility board has given any direction on an idea that’s been kicking around since last decade.

“It’s been discussed ... for years but it’s never gotten too far down the road and the board’s never been asked to take a position publicly,” said Tim Arends, executive director for TCL&P.

TCL&P would construct the system over the winter and pay up-front costs. The DDA then would reimburse the utility over a 10-year period, plus operating costs of about $30,000 a year.

“This is an amenity to folks downtown, local visitors or visitors from afar,” said Rob Bacigalupi, DDA interim director. “We need to continue delivering what the expectation is, and that’s a high-quality experience and that means having the amenities people expect.”

Downtown business owners offered mixed reaction. They like the idea but question the cost.

“Obviously, it’s great for the tourists and I think a lot of people would use it, but that’s a lot of money that could be put to better uses,” said Lauren Creighton, owner of Love Traverse City.

A better use, from Creighton’s perspective: directing funds to more trash pickup in the summer to keep the downtown clean.

Nate Farran, operations manager of M 22, also noted it’s a lot of money and wondered if free Wi-Fi might have a negative impact on coffee shops and other businesses that use it to entice customers. But he considers it a good thing for the city and most businesses.

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