Wi-fi could be on its way to downtown McMinnville.
City officials are considering approval of a 50/50 grant from Appalachian Regional Commission that will provide free internet access to visitors on Main Street for the purpose of increasing economic and educational activity.
“We applied for this grant from Appalachian Regional Commission in 2018,” said Katie Kemezis, community planner for the city of McMinnville, to members of the city Finance Committee. “We were pending for a year and we got it.”
Ben Lomand, lone bidder on the project, provided the city with three coverage options:
• Option one: $54,416 to provide 10 access points on Court Square.
• Option two: $68,676 to provide 13 access points from Magness Library to Sparta Street, as well as Court Square.
• Option three: $99,387 to provide 22 access points from Magness Library to Sparta Street, as well as Court Square and the Farmers Market.
The grant provides $31,859. Combined with a required match of $31,859, the total grant amount is $63,719.
Option two drew the attention of committee members. The city’s responsibility would be $36,817 – slightly above its required match.
“I think scenario two is the best way to go,” said Mayor Ben Newman. “Scenario three would be awesome because it includes the Farmers Market.”
Kemezis said providing wi-fi downtown would promote economic development and be an amenity for tourists, but it would provide an even bigger benefit for local residents.
“I think the biggest benefit would be to our community,” she said. “By providing free wi-fi downtown, students can come downtown and do homework if they do not have internet access at home. People can apply for jobs, if they don’t have internet at home.”
Ben Lomand also offered to provide the internet service free of charge after the first year if the city allows it to control a splash page for users accessing the wi-fi. According to its service agreement, Ben Lomand would retain any monetary benefits from ads.
Finance Committee members approved acceptance of the ARC grant, as well as Ben Lomand’s scenario two. The measure will be sent to the full Board of Mayor and Aldermen for its consideration.