Bethany decides to scrap town map project

Members of the Bethany Beach Communications Committee voted unanimously on Jan. 24 to scrap previous plans to cooperate in the creation of an advertising-supported town map.

The proposal from map publishers Village Profile had been approved last year by the previous committee makeup and dropped from its agenda after Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade organizers declined the town’s offer to allow them to take it on as a fund-raising project, and as committee membership changed.

The issue was raised again in recent months, championed by committee member and local businessman Monte Wisbrock. But Wisbrock was the first one at the committee’s January meeting to recommend the town simply drop the idea. He said discussion of the project had uncovered a likely roadblock.

“The town’s businesses and commercial property owners, through permits or taxes, pay money into the town,” he said, suggesting that the town might want to consider giving businesses inside town limits the right to be represented exclusively on the map, on that basis.

As part of its potential agreement with Village Profile for production of the map, the town would have needed to agree to provide the company’s representative with a desk, telephone and its seal of approval on the project. With that a known factor, Wisbrock asked, “Is there a perceived obligation the town’s businesses would feel to support it” by buying advertising?

If they didn’t all buy the advertising, Wisbrock theorized, the town could end up with those businesses’ out-of-town competition being the primary advertisers on the Bethany Beach town map.

Further complicating the issue, Village Profile hadn’t been able to promise to only sell advertising for the map to businesses inside town limits. The company has a profit margin to maintain on the project and couldn’t guarantee it would be able to meet that profitability point without going outside the town for advertisers.

“If you’re going to try to stick within the boundaries of Bethany Beach, I’d recommend we not even attempt this project. It wouldn’t be worth the hassle,” Wisbrock said.

Also of concern was the lack of a town representative to take on the work it would need to do to support the project. Town Clerk said she knew Town Manager Cliff Graviet would say the town didn’t have enough staff for the project. It would need a volunteer or group of volunteers to run it, she said.

Council Member Lew Killmer, present at the meeting, said he was also concern that the effort to solicit advertising might dilute the pool of money available from local businesses for such things as donations toward the Fourth of July parade. The decision to scrap it entirely was quick and decisive.

Involvement of business community a goal

Committee members also decided to put on the back burner a project designed to increase the involvement of the town’s business community with the town itself.

Committee member and local businessman Jim Weisgerber had said he strongly felt the need to encourage his fellow businesspeople to get involved with the town and to participate in town decision-making before the later stages of the process, as has been the case sometimes in the past.

Weisgerber said he wanted to focus on encouraging businesspeople to keep abreast of such issues via the town Web site, but lacking e-mail addresses for essentially all of them, he didn’t feel they could do that efficiently.

Kail said she could add an e-mail line to the information requested each year from the businesses on their business license renewal forms, but completing that list could take up to a year. With that established, Weisgerber said he’d monitor the project until another step could be taken.

Meanwhile, Killmer noted that the town’s planning commission — and himself in particular — are working on a similar effort to engage the town’s business community on planning issues. Killmer said they were particularly interested in bringing the businesspeople into the process of creating a vision for the town’s commercial areas some one, three or five years into the future, or more.

Repeating his statement last week that the proposed redevelopment of landmark commercial properties in nearby Dewey Beach is a “wake-up call” for Bethany, Killmer said, “Our businesses are as important as the ocean. It is a draw.”

Wanting to keep the town as a draw for visitors, Killmer said he was thinking in terms of suggesting the businesspeople of Bethany create a “business authority” that could speak to the town with one voice on issues and participate in the visioning process. He also said that public input could be used to design the commercial Bethany of the future, with the public suggesting what businesses the town needed but does not yet have.

Key to his plan will be the same kind of start-to-finish, in-depth involvement from the business community that Weisgerber is aiming to achieve. The two plan to work together on the issue.

Committee member and local businessman John Barrett was able to check his project off the committee’s to-do list Wednesday, confirming that new nametags for town council members had been created and delivered to the town. The new tags not only identify the officials but use a new magnet system rather than pins, preventing damage to clothing.

Also off their list is the oft-raised “skills assessment” for volunteers that was never utilized and was being considered for a new try under the previous committee makeup. Committee members unanimously agreed to drop the project, Wisbrock saying that a timely call for skilled volunteers for individual projects would be more efficient.

The committee remains working on a number of other issues, preparing input for the upcoming Web site revamps to be done by FuturTech consultants; working on a potential driving tour of the area’s points of interest and historical sites targeted at those unable to take the existing walking tour of the town; and brainstorming on new ideas to enhance communication with town citizens.

Committee member Cullen Langford is also gathering information on emergency preparedness to add to the information available to citizens from the town’s public safety officer, Ralph Mitchell. And Mary Hope is working on assembling basic information on mosquito control to help educate the town’s citizens about how those pests are being managed by the town and state.

The committee is set to meet next on Feb. 21, at 10 a.m.