Historic Square leaps into digital age

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Steven Lefebvre, the director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., works in the comfort of Pa Bunks Grocery on Jan. 10, 2013, in the historice section of downtown. (TMP Photo/B. Mailey)

A trip around Murfreesboro’s historic downtown yields a plethora of shops, restaurants and law offices, but take a closer look.

Notice the older lady on the park bench reading her favorite novel on an Amazon Kindle? How about the Middle Tennessee State University student seamlessly switching between Facebook and a research paper on a MacBook outside of Liquid Smoke? Don’t forget the shoppers meandering about while searching their smartphone apps for deals.   

From iPhones to Androids and iPads to Nooks, smartphones and tablets keep local residents connected to friends, neighbors and coworkers, but only if Internet access is available.

As part of its continued effort to make downtown Murfreesboro a destination hot spot, its Main Street program will soon be adding free Wi-Fi to the Square’s list of amenities.

A nearly $3,000 enhancement was recently approved by the board to improve Wi-Fi availability for use by Square patrons, merchants and pedestrians, said Brian Robertson, Rutherford County’s chief information officer, who is a member of the Main Street board of directors.

By purchasing two additional transmitters, Main Street doubles its Wi-Fi signal, he said.

Currently, only the northeast side of the Square has reception.

“Our goal is to have 100 percent coverage in the Square proper,” Robertson said. “We started this concept a few months ago when the county had purchased the first two units … one in the cupola of the (Rutherford County) Courthouse, and it connects all of the others that will be installed.”

Main Street Executive Director Kathleen Herzog explained how free Internet access continues the program’s mission “to promote, maintain and enhance historic downtown Murfreesboro as the heart of the community.”

“We just thought the addition of a Wi-Fi component would be one more plus to our amenities. We’ve got so much else going on down here, we might as well be tech savvy too,” she said. “We want people to come and hang out downtown, and every single person is sort of carrying one of these devices. Just think of how many people can sit on the Square during Saturday mornings at the (farmer's) market. That’s five months of Saturdays.”

The idea for free Wi-Fi was brought up during Main Street’s quest to redesign its website and update its office computers.

“It was kind of a natural conversation that sort of occurred within that promotions committee during a comprehensive evaluation of the ‘whole enchilada,’” Herzog said.

An open, public network will be available year-round, and additional, closed networks will be created during events. Additionally, the free Wi-Fi has been dubbed “Downtown,” but may change to coincide with activities like the annual JazzFest.

Main Street has chosen Meraki has its Wi-Fi provider, which is designed for public-use Internet access.

“Therefore, we have a lot of ability to throttle and manage the capacity of Wi-Fi speed,” Robertson continued. “We can actually have a greater capacity on a weekend than we might for daily traffic. We actually have different speeds or capacities based on various networks IDs, and we can manage that and keep it from encroaching on other traffic the county might have. But it is completely separate from the county’s Internet network.”

While the wireless Internet access is provided and available to anyone on the Square, it is not intended to replace merchants’ individual Internet.

“There are a few Wi-Fi networks on the Square, with most of them inside merchants’ footprints, obviously,” Robertson said. “What we put up will, perhaps, provide better coverage and continuity for someone who is walking about. There is Wi-Fi at PJ’s Pizza, and if you walk out and head to Pa Bunk’s, there’s a black spot right in the middle. Well, the courthouse is right there in the middle, so it will act like a giant antenna.”

Pa Bunk’s Health Market and Café owner Corey Williams provides Wi-Fi that reaches the sidewalk in front of his shop. However, oftentimes, patrons will get a cup of coffee or sandwich to enjoy while sitting at one of the Square’s benches.

“There are lots of nooks and crannies around the Square and the courthouse where you can sit outside on a pretty day,” he said. “This will obviously benefit people who are walking around and cruising the Square too. Most people have (smartphones or tablets), so they could download a song or video while walking around the Square without interruption.”

The Internet servers have been ordered and should be installed before warmer weather arrives, Herzog said.

In the meantime, keep visiting the Square and checking Main Street’s Facebook page for updates.

Read more from:
Business, Main Street Program, Murfreesboro, Rutherford County, Technology
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