Business

HotZone wants a place in the sun

Promoters of the Spokane HotZone hope to encourage more public use of the wireless Internet service by helping downtown restaurants and bars put more tables and chairs outdoors.

The free outdoor HotZone allows people with wireless-enabled laptop computers or handhelds to surf the Web or download e-mail. It was launched last year by a consortium of Spokane city agencies and private companies.

It covers about 100 square blocks of the downtown area, including much of Riverfront Park. It does not extend into buildings in most cases.

To broaden public use of the HotZone, organizers want restaurants and bars that don’t have outdoor seating to take the plunge. The Downtown Spokane Partnership, a business trade association, says it’s arranged a special discount for some businesses wanting to get a city-approved outdoor café license.

Instead of paying $300 for that café license, businesses responding to the plan will have to pay just $50, said Mike Edwards, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

After the first year, the outdoor café renewal would be the city’s usual $250, he said.

City officials liked the idea and backed the discount, Edwards said.

“This is another example of Mayor Jim West working to help promote economic development,” said Edwards. One goal for the city, he added, is encouraging more pedestrian use of downtown.

The consortium behind the HotZone believes more outdoor users would be the best way to help promote the value of the wireless network, said Edwards.

So far, just three restaurants have said they’ll apply for the discount licenses, said Marla Nunberg, marketing director for the Downtown Spokane Partnership.

One of those is Soulful Soups. Another business that already has had outdoor seating, Rock City Grill, will also encourage HotZone patrons, said Edwards.

The city asked that applications for this offer be submitted no later than today. Edwards said he’ll ask the city for an extension if he hears that more downtown businesses want to take part.

The offer applies only to downtown food and beverage businesses or coffee shops, said Edwards.

HotZone service, in a few cases, has been brought inside buildings. Edwards said River Park Square has wireless service in its food court.

That same area will soon have a HotZone kiosk to help promote the idea and show users what it can do.

“Wi-fi is hard for people to understand. It’s not something you can see. It takes some time to get people comfortable with it,” Edwards said.

While the first two hours of Internet use inside the HotZone are free, Spokane networking company 180Networks now charges users $6.95 per day for use beyond the first two hours. OneEighty provides the Internet connection for the wireless downtown network.



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