Frogs used to be the only critters perched on lily pads. Up on Main Street, however, business owners, students and shoppers are now hanging out on an electronic lily pad in Over-the-Rhine.
Project Lily Pad is a volunteer-driven initiative that provides free wireless (WiFi) Internet access in public spaces (see "Look, Ma, No Wires," issue of June 22-28, 2005). Known as "hot spots," these areas are located throughout Greater Cincinnati and paid for by various sponsors. Thanks to Peter Chabris, owner of Comey & Shepherd's Team Chabris, free WiFi access will be available for the next three years to anyone frequenting businesses on Main Street between 12th and Liberty streets.
Pointing to a number of real estate development projects that he's spearheaded or participated in, Chabris says he's dedicated to Over-the-Rhine.
"It's an area that's pretty close to my heart," he says. "My office in is Over-the-Rhine on Main Street. The majority of my clients are young professionals who value the continuing renaissance of the urban core of Cincinnati."
In addition to putting up several thousand dollars to make access cost-free for the public, Chabris has put two hot spots in buildings he owns and is working with other building owners to add more.
The unsecured network is available to anyone in the area with a wireless card in his or her laptop computer or hand-held device. Accessing the Internet is easy, eliminating the need for a user name and password. It also means the connected device can be accessed by hackers and that any electronic activity — including e-mail downloads and purchases — can be monitored. Chabris doesn't see that as a problem because most people are going to be online for just a short period of time.
"We're targeting street-level users," he says. "It's for people coming to do business or visiting the area."
More than a convenience for those in-between meetings who want to check e-mail, small business owners in the Main Street area benefit from Lily Pad.
"Several business owners are really excited about it and are using it right now," Chabris says. "A gallery owner and some clothing retailers are using it to go online, to check their bank account or maybe place an order with a vendor. These are people who don't need the dedicated bandwidth every month. Now they're able to access the Internet without that carrying cost."
The ambitious goal of the program is to raise national awareness that Cincinnati is a tech-savvy region as a way to attract and retain a creative class of young professionals. Touted as one of the few wireless initiatives in the nation that doesn't rely on government funding or advertising sales, Project Lily Pad hopes to provide Cinciannatians with technology services that will help promote economic growth and increase community development.
Teresa Hoelle, public relations representative for Project Lily Pad, says her objective is to make people aware of where the hot spots are located so they can host meetings in alternative locations or enhance their experience at a particular destination, such as the Cincinnati Art Museum.
"Access points are limited," Hoelle says. "They aren't going to be throughout the museum. If I were attending the museum, I could go to a gallery and then maybe go to the cafe and look up an artist. Or, I could plan a meeting there and then go through the art museum after."
Current Lily Pad locations include Fountain Square, Hyde Park Square, Tri-County Mall and Longworth Hall, Piatt Park and Berry International Friendship Park downtown. More sites will be added in 2006, including the central riverfront, Anderson Park-and-Ride and the Cincinnati Art Museum (see Porkopolis, issue of Oct. 5-11, 2005).
Chabris says people hunched over laptops is a sign of success.
"When you go into Kaldi's Coffeehouse (in Over-the-Rhine), there are people all over the place using it," he says. "There are a lot of students in there from the Art Academy of Cincinnati. They're our ideal users."
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