Look, Ma, No Wires

Pockets of free wireless Internet access called "Lily Pads" could soon bloom all across the city and beyond. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber hopes to tether the energy of that project to th

Jun 22, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Matt Borgerding

Charles Attal (left) and Bill Donabedian push Wi-Fi as Cincinnati's "next big thing."

Pockets of free wireless Internet access called "Lily Pads" could soon bloom all across the city and beyond.

The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber hopes to tether the energy of that project to the vitality of Cincinnati's independent music scene and use them, along with the regional tourism collective's newly unveiled brand, to lure more young professional (YP) and "creative class" types to the Cincinnati area.

To figure out how and also to whip up interest, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber drew together about 50 well-dressed youngish people for a June 16 lunchtime program.

The panel took place in the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, but local cheerleaders are taking a more expansive approach. No longer is the three-state, 15-county area to be called "Greater Cincinnati." It's now "Cincinnati USA."

On the panel assembled to examine "How YPs can provide the spark for Cincinnati USA's new DNA" were Charles Attal, the Austin, Texas-based concert promoter and venue operator who recently took over Covington's Madison Theater; Bill Donabedian, co-founder and president of the MidPoint Music Festival; Phil Duncan, the Landor Associates executive who led the regional branding effort; and Ryan Rybolt, co-founder of the Lily Pad Wi-Fi initiative.

Duncan, who led the development of the new brand, was the first to acknowledge that brands are defined as much by what they do as what they claim.

Donabedian said the best way to live up to those claims is to "be entrepreneurial." That doesn't necessarily mean starting a new company, he said.

It means identifying something that needs to be done and just doing it.

"Don't wait for permission or someone else to do it," he said.

After all, that's how the MidPoint Music Festival was born. But it doesn't stop with the festival; there's a lot of energy around the local music scene to leverage, according to Attal.

"I never really thought of Cincinnati being a music town, but it's all in the numbers," he said.

Just as Austin has fashioned itself the "live music capital of the world," Cincinnati can become the "independent music capital of the world," Donabedian said.

"I want eventually people to think this is where bands come and start their careers," he said.

Panelists agreed the next step is spreading the word, starting with travelers as they step off planes at the airport, giving information about the local music scene and Lily Pads. Linking local music and Wi-Fi makes perfect sense, Donabedian said.

"You have artists now who record their entire session on their Mac," he said. "Wi-Fi is the base, the foundation on which all will be built."

Lily Pads are kind of like the Adopt a Highway project gone tech. For about two tax-deductible grand a year over a three-year contract, sponsors can fund the installation, data access, maintenance and marketing of a free wireless "Lily Pad" area. In exchange, sponsors receive recognition through signage and the Lily Pad splash page (the first Web page that pops up when you log on to a wireless network).

Project Lily Pad (lilypadUSA.org) is spearheaded by the YP volunteer organization Give Back Cincinnati. It already has funding for the routers and a technology partner, Time/Warner Cable, to install them, Rybolt said.

Actually, the hardest part right now is getting access to the buildings on which to mount small wireless routers, and the city has been the biggest barrier to that access, he said.

"Once this gets off the ground, we have to keep looking for the next thing," Donabedian said. "I'd love to see Cincinnati always thinking ahead: How do we make our lives easier using technology?"

All The News That Fits: Leads, entrails and tales we couldn't get to.