Bethany Beach considers map publication

Bethany Beach officials have a variety of mapping projects in the works, and along with zoning descriptions and official maps for town documents and infrastructure documentation, there may be yet another map in the town’s near future.

Members of the Communications Committee, led by Mayor Jack Walsh, heard a presentation from Megan Layman of Municipal Publications at their April 11 meeting. Municipal Publications produces maps for cities, towns and communities in which the municipalities place their street map, points of interest and local information, while local businesses can purchase advertising.

The map publications are completely advertising-supported, at no cost to the town, with the advertisements placed in a border around the map, photos and local information provided by the municipalities. The whole package provides a service to the town, community, visitors and local businesses, and has been considered a win-win situation for both the company and its clients.

Walsh, in doing the initial investigation of the idea, had contacted the City of Newark about their map, which had been done by Municipal Publications. Walsh said Newark officials had recommended the service, noting that the company worked with them to update and correct flaws in existing map information.

Layman told the committee members that there was usually a three- to six-month period during which the municipalities provided information and Municipal Publications representatives sell ads to the local businesses — at $300 or less as a target cost, she said.

That cost covers the development of the map publication, printing of up to 12,000 copies or printing/mailing costs of 8,000 to 9,000 copies, on average, Layman explained. And the information it could provide could offset the need for the town’s recently developed informational brochure — potentially freeing up those funds for additional copies of the map.

Committee members were impressed with the quality of the samples provided and showed enthusiasm for the project. But there are a couple of issues to be considered and worked out:

(1) What boundaries does the town want to look at for the project — Should only businesses within town limits be solicited for advertisements and included on the map, and are there enough to make that feasible? Should neighboring towns, and their businesses, be offered the chance to participate in a community-wide map?

(2) How many copies of the map will be wanted? And is there enough interest to make the publication pay for itself? Layman said the maps are traditionally mailed to all residences, with other distribution options including availability at the town hall, and local shops and real estate offices. Committee members noted the seasonal and part-time population of the town, but said they expected the need for the publication would be significant despite a lack of year-round residents.

Council Member Lew Killmer pointed out that the town has about 2,500 homes — about half of which house full-time residents — and about 100 businesses. That’s not including neighboring businesses, which Killmer noted are among least 85 that include Bethany Beach in their name.

Committee members said they thought the 8,000 minimum number — and perhaps even the 12,000 — might be fewer than what is needed. Layman said additional maps could be provided, and recommended enough to last at least two years — the minimum period she recommended for updates.

(3) Committee members expressed some concern about how the project would impact, and be impacted by, a Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce project that creates a similar map annually, to benefit the Chamber. They said they felt the Municipal Publications samples held promise for a superior project but were sensitive to cutting into the Chamber’s fundraising, as well as to the possible negative impact of another map on the ability to sell ads for a town-focused map from the company.

There was some discussion of bringing the Chamber into the project, to perhaps share the profits, but Layman said she was a bit skeptical that that could be worked out for the benefit of both.

On the other hand, local businessman and committee member Monte Wisbrock said, “If nothing else, only good can come from competition.”

On that note, Walsh emphasized that the idea was still in the formative stages. The town might decide not to do it at all. Indeed, he asked for a formal proposal from Municipal Publications for such a project, particularly noting what information and responsibilities the town would have. Layman said she would prepare such a proposal for the committee to discuss at a later meeting.

Also at the April 11 meeting, committee members continued their discussion of possible changes to the Bethany Beach town Web site. Council and committee member Tony McClenny said he still had some issues with the current site design — particularly as to how it was organized and being updated.

Committee members have worked with the town’s Web designer to refine some problem areas of the site, but McClenny said he felt the whole structure was cumbersome. The committee has also discussed a whole new look for the site, as suggested by Town Manager Cliff Graviet in recent months. And it was that possibility they discussed this week.

The committee gave a quick look at the State of Delaware’s site, which has been named the top state Web portal in the U.S. by the Center for Digital Government. They liked the general design and said that, while they are attached to the town’s current home-page collage of photos, they might consider something along the lines of the state site for the interior sections of the town Web site.

Committee members also pointed to the Web sites of Bridgeville and Seaford as standards, and they agreed to make a list of recommendations and concerns that will be compiled for Web developers to consider in possibly designing a new site.

On the topic of updating the Web site, committee members expressed concern that the requirements of updating the site were putting too much workload on town staff members. They discussed incorporating a recent update by the committee of the town’s “skills inventory” for volunteers, to see if a Web-savvy volunteer might be found to do the updates for the town, when meetings were posted, for example.

The committee’s volunteer liaison, Faith Denault, said she would consult the current listing of volunteers to see if anyone might look like a candidate.

In the meantime, there may be a few more links added to the site. Wisbrock said that in his work with the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company, he’d discovered that the bulk of the children on Sea Colony’s swim team and most of those using the community’s recreation center over the winter are locals.

That was a bit of a surprise, and he’d realized that the people of Bethany Beach might benefit from knowing the programs existed — and could be informed of them with a simple Web site link. Such links could be added to the handful of informational links already on the site, committee members agreed.

Finishing out the meeting topics for April 11, Wisbrock noted that he hadn’t yet completed the annual updates of the town’s online business map. Traditionally, the update is done at the beginning of the summer season, to remove businesses that have moved or gone out of business and replace them with newcomers. Wisbrock said he expected few changes this year and that he would have the update done by May.