Rob Remus (standing) answers questions about the portal proposal.

Pete Mazzaccaro

By the time the Board of the Chestnut Hill Community Association got to the proposal to start a community-wide Web portal last night, less than half an hour remained on the clock before the Chestnut Hill Library was supposed to close and the meeting to end.

It was not enough time to sort through a number of issues for many board members who finally voted to table the motion before the lights of the Chestnut Hill Library were flipped off and the meeting concluded.

The portal plan was first proposed by Board Member Rob Remus, who crafted it with the consultation of Hill resident Gerald Tracy, business development manager of Calkins Media, which owns and operates, the web portal of The Bucks County Courier Times and the Montgomery County Intelligencer. The proposal was later developed through a summer-long series of committee meetings.

The idea behind the plan is to augment the Chestnut Hill Local’s online content with interactive features and to bring in “stakeholder” organizations. It’s been called a “one-stop online shop” for Chestnut Hill.  The portal proposal calls for dramatically increased page views over the current website of the Local and sets goals of $20,000 to $25,000 advertising revenues. By comparison, in November, the Local made $2,000 in online advertising. The Local is owned by the CHCA.

Under the proposal, an independent web portal would be established, housed in the offices of the Chestnut Hill Local. That portal would be supported by funds from the CHCA, the Chestnut Hill Business Association and Business Improvement District as well as the editorial and advertising resources of the Local.

“This is an investment in the future,” Remus said.

Members of the board remained divided over both the ability of the CHCA to finance the portal — the plan calls for $5,000 a month from the CHCA in addition to at least another $7,000 a month in additional funding — and many were confused over how the portal would be governed. The portal proposal called for an independent portal operator to report to a four person committee within the CHCA .

Board member, Art Howe, a long-time newspaper executive and current chairman of Verve Wireless — a mobile advertising firm he helped found — said after careful study that he was impressed by the portal plan and felt it was timely. Yet, he wasn’t similarly impressed by the proposed administration of the portal.

“I think this is a superb idea,” How said, “But the structure leaves me puzzled.”

Associate Publisher Larry Hochberger distributed a four-page information sheet questioning the portal’s viability and argued that the portal would act as competition to the Local’s own online efforts. Hochberger estimated that the Local could deliver the same features as the portal, but for $2,000 a month in expenditures — a roughly $10,000 a month difference from Remus’ estimates of initial portal expenses.

Asked to speak about the capabilities of the organization to pay for the portal, CHCA treasurer David Mansfield said he had identified approximately $70,000 in unspent line-item funding. Based on the financial reports for the CHCA and Local, the funding for the portal would clearly be available within the Local, which has, as of December, a $104,000 in net revenue.

“It could pay for the first year of operations for the portal,” Mansfield said.

The portal proposal will come again before the board at its February meeting.