By Bob Hembree
Lake Powell Chronicle
PAGE - A simple phrase spoken in a presentation to the city council raised red flags and touched off a debate: “seed money.” Janet Brown, owner of Lake Powell Communications wants to build a map app for Page. Brown told the council Wednesday night, “I’m not asking the council to fund this. I’m asking for just a bit of seed money to get going on this. To be clear about the money at the top end, I’m asking the city to for $8,000 in the 2019 budget and $8,000 in the 2020 budget.”
The debate jumped from City Hall to social media when Council Theresa Lee posted the following comment on her public Facebook page:
“City of Page Turned Venture Capitalist?
If you missed tonight’s council meeting, a local business owner wants the City to invest a minimum of $16,000 of your tax dollars over the next two years for a product that has yet to be developed. All council members, except for myself, voted to have a contract written up for this ‘investment opportunity.’
When did the City of Page become a capital investor?
Call each and every council person and even the interim city manager if you need to and remind them that your tax dollars are not for capital investments in privately owned companies.
When, and if, the product is developed is a wholly different story, discussion, and use of your tax dollars.”
The Chronicle asked Brown if she regrets using the term “seed money.” She said, “That was a misterm. I did use it, but it’s not seed money. It is not seed money. That’s a misnomer. I’ve been here for 30 years. I don’t need seed money. This is not seed money. It’s more sponsorship.” Brown said the app will feature the city logo and promote the golf course and Horseshoe Bend for the city in return for the sponsorship.
Brown’s idea is to market the free app through her website and sell map-pins to local businesses. Map-pins highlight advertiser locations on map apps. They display additional information about a business when tapped. Map-N-Tour Inc., the company Brown is working with, recently completed an app for Kane County, Utah for the Kanab area. According to Denny Henson, president of company, the number of downloads and use of the Kanab app are low. She attributes this to change requests by the county and lack of marketing for the app. The Kanab Trails app has been available for over a year. The Apple and Android versions each have one positive review.
Brown hopes she can do a better job promoting the app. She told the council, “Lake Powell Communications is very suited to be able to get the app into the phones with the visitor guide. We have the top website in town--Lake Powell Life and a visitor guide that can guide tourists toward that app.”
Regarding Lee’s argument against the city spending money on the app, is that it hasn’t been built yet. Brown said if she secures funds, which included $8,000 from the city, a like amount from a second investor and advertising presales, the app will be available in March 2020.
Typically, map apps use the same data, either from Google or Apple’s Mapkit. They use preexisting platforms. Developers basically assemble ready-made components and drop in customer information. They don’t build apps from scratch. A quick internet search shows a wide range of pricing for apps. Michael Goldberg with Media Access in Virginia Beach, Virginia, told the Chronicle the $55,000 price tag Brown says she’s paying was “way too high,” but this depends on additional production cost outside the app itself. Brown told the council the costs included writing, editing and photography for the apps.
Before the Wednesday’s council meeting, Brown pitched her idea to the Economic Development Advisory Board. According to the meeting minutes, “Motion was made by Brian Carey to recommend, City Council authorize city staff to enter into future discussion with Lake Powell Life with regards to the development of a Page specific tourism application. The motion was duly seconded by Bill Diak.” The vote was to continue discussing the proposal, though not necessarily making a recommendation for the feasibility of the plan as presented. In other words, there will be negotiations and stipulations. Brown told the Chronicle she delivered a contract to the city Monday morning. Community development director, Tim Suan said, “Currently, the city staff is working on a draft contract with clear minimal deliverables with Janet to present to council.”
Legal and ethical guidelines governing city decisions are complicated and riddled with gray areas. Speculative investments in a private enterprise is different from marketing. Sometimes, it’s difficult to distinguish between the two because of the overlapping characteristics. Words matter. Is it seed money or sponsorship? The city attorney will determine this.