by Wesley Ratko
After viewing a detailed PowerPoint presentation spelling out a unanimous decision by the Chestnut Hill Community Association’s Web Portal Task Force to establish a Web portal for Chestnut Hill, the CHCA board voted only to “investigate establishing” such a portal.
The board’s unanimous vote came in response to the PowerPoint presentation by Rob Remus, a Chestnut Hill Community Association board member, and a motion to establish “an entity to operate this portal on behalf of the whole community.”
Remus said the task force had two recommendation: (1) to create the Internet portal, and (2) to acquire new technology upon which the portal would be constructed and which would also be used to update the Chestnut Hill Local’s website. He proposed turning the task force into a formal committee to work with the stakeholders (whom he defined in his presentation as Chestnut Hill residents, the community association, the community fund, the business association, local institutions, and “citizen journalists”).
Remus explained his concept of the portal as a community marketing tool, envisioning a “social coordinator” who could “push out” information about events and other happenings to individuals who had registered with the site.
“This portal would serve the stakeholders and their mission,” he said.
Remus emphasized throughout his talk that competition for such a Web portal was imminent, referring repeatedly to a company called AOL Patch. According to its website (www.patch.com), AOL Patch is “a community-specific news and information platform dedicated to providing comprehensive and trusted local coverage for individual towns and communities.”
Remus explained that AOL Patch is “all about getting visitors – they don’t care about us.” He warned the board that such competition could “radically change the landscape” and create a Web presence that would deprive the community association of any control over content.
“We add value to our content,” he said.
Before taking questions from the board, Remus pointed out that the ownership structure of the portal hadn’t yet been defined, nor had any discussion taken place regarding ad revenue projections.
Board member Mike Chomentowski referred to an article in Time magazine (“Are Hyperlocal News Sites Replacing Newspapers?”) that suggested the more successful community portals were those run by journalists. Chomentowski asked him to comment about the decision not to use the Local as a means of creating the portal.
Remus explained that there were two different skill sets involved here: a technical capability to manage and present information versus those who generate the content on a website. Remus explained that while the sites begun by newspapers had been successful, their success came about as a result of being run from a business development standpoint.
“Editorial control alone is not the common model,” he explained.
Board member Tom Hemphill questioned whether the new portal would be a friend or a competitor to the Local and its website.
Remus explained that the whole portal would serve the Local’s needs.
“If anything,” he said, “it gives the Local an online presence that they couldn’t get themselves.”
Board member Art Howe presented Remus and the board with a copy of the Ellsworth American, published in Bar Harbor, Maine, which has a strong community portal and a printed newspaper and, he said, “is doing very well.”
“I think you’re spot on with your presentation,” Howe said to Remus, but stated that advertising would require personnel to both sell and manage, and asked who would sell these ads? Remus responded that the staff of the Local would be trained on how to take orders for those ads and put them online.
Art Howe then addressed Larry Hochberger, the Local’s associate publisher, asking whether he thought his staff could handle that responsibility.
“If so, then there’s no question about who owns it and who controls it – it’s the Local,” Howe said.
Remus disagreed, but could offer no response. Board member Bob Rossman suggested the discussion was getting ahead of itself, as the motion before the board dealt solely with whether or not to establish a portal.
Board member Stephanie Chomentowski expressed hesitation about voting to establish the portal. Instead, she suggested the matter be investigated further and that the language of the motion be amended to reflect this. Mike Chomentowski agreed and suggested the board reconsider the option of running the portal.
“Ultimately, this is about protecting the Local,” said Howe.
Chestnut Hill Community Fund Biannual Report
Treasurer Bill McGuckin delivered the biannual Trustees Report of the Chestnut Hill Community Fund to the board.
The report of the latest fiscal year, which ended March 31, still is with the auditors and won’t be complete until some time in mid November. McGuckin told the board that the report would be posted to the Internet at that time for all to read.
“We’ve done significantly better this year than last year,” McGuckin said.
He reported that there had been little change halfway into the current fiscal year, from April 1 to Sept. 30. He explained that the annual fund drive works to collect and distribute money to 22 different beneficiaries that include free concerts, organizations, schools, groups, and beautification efforts, “all for the betterment of the community.” The Fund’s basic objective, he said, was to improve life in the Chestnut Hill Area.
“The good that we do is phenomenal, and something we should promote,” he told the CHCA board. He emphasized the importance of being well informed about the things the community fund does so as to make known all of their good causes.
In the last year, in addition to the more than $100,000 raised by the Annual Fund Drive, thousands of volunteer man-hours had been given to the Association, McGuckin said.
In addition to the fund drive, an anonymous five-year bequest has allowed the community association and the fund to hire an administrative coordinator. That five-year period ends this year.
Community Fund president Jean Hemphill explained that there may be additional funding from this donor, but said “she [the donor] was unwilling to make a formal commitment beyond this year.” Hemphill explained that the donor was unlikely to make another five-year commitment to the CHCA.
“But there might be an extension,” board president Walter Sullivan said.
“I think there can be more money to come, but I think her thought was that the organization needs to figure out how it’s going to have this without her,” Hemphill said.
Community fund trustee Fran Lane reported on the management and investment activities of the fund. He reported that the fund’s market value holdings of $583,000 were split between actively managed and inactively managed funds.
Community fund secretary Stan Moat reviewed the status of Town Hall, the fund’s only real estate. He said two rentals are available in this building, which contains the offices for the Local, and that those rental revenues are now being spent on deferred maintenance of the building.
This maintenance includes dealing with water seeping into the basement and foundation. The window wells have been blocked up, new concrete has been replaced in the alley outside the building, and new drainage and a new sump pump have been installed.
Water has also damaged the building from the top down – a condition he said the fund will take steps to fix, with roof replacement scheduled for next month.