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Forest Park/Avondale Spotlight: Free Wifi at Local Businesses

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We’re used to wifi options at big box stores, the kind that to lure us into downloading specialty coupon apps but also speed comparison shopping. Then we’ve heard of entire cities providing free public wifi as a progressive move to create universal high-speed access. The recent debut of free wifi networks in the Forest Park and South Avondale business districts is somewhere in between, a combination of convenient neighborhood service and clever marketing that makes us excited to see what the area’s forward-thinking merchant group comes up with next. But first, we checked in with Forest Park South Avondale Business Association President Marco Morosini to find out more about the rationale behind the network and the impact it’s had so far.

A big part of the service, Morosini told us, is creating a kind of instant neighborhood directory for wifi network users. So many interactions and information searches happen on our handheld devices, Morosini said, “what we created is a way for businesses, part of the merchant association, to be put in front of the customer, even before the customer looks for the business.” Users who accept the terms and conditions for online access will be instantly redirected to a landing page that lists participating businesses, he explained.

In essence, visitors to the neighborhood can get a fairly instant picture of what’s available nearby, even if they’re unfamiliar with the area. Asked if businesses are seeing an uptick in foot traffic with the wifi addition, Morosini said it’s “too early to tell” but that the network had seen roughly 800-1200 new users per week since its debut.

This is only the latest move from a neighborhood business association that’s helped drive local renewal. Even before the association reached the participation levels it sees today, it was still active in the move to renovate Avondale Park, Morosini said. These days organization materials outline a clear set of goals — which include attracting both visitors and investors to the area — and its partnership with REV Birmingham to achieve them. Morosini particularly credits Richard Stewart, the association’s vice president, with helping “truly rally the merchant association” and attract new businesspeople like Avondale Brewing Co.’s Coby Lake.

After all, an area with local businesses is part of the urban neighborhood charm. But not all businesses are created equal. Some will struggle to find an audience within the neighborhood, let alone attracting new customers and new energy. The Forest Park South Avondale Business Association, in contrast, feels like the very best of what advocates like localist Carrie Rollwagen say small businesses offer – reinvestment in the neighborhood, support of local charities, and a general sense of community. In fact, Morosini said the association has plans for a capital project at the 41st Street and Clairmont Avenue corridors, but details are still under wraps.

The merchant association may well be one of the biggest sells for making your home in South Avondale or Forest Park, since you’ll know you’re not alone in wanting to create something special. Existing stakeholders have already laid the hard groundwork; all you have to do is show up.

If you’re ready to test the waters, Morosini reminded us to mark our calendars for the following spring and summer events:

  • April 24th: Alabama Symphony Orchestra at Avondale Park
  • June and July: Movies in Avondale Park
  • July 16th: Park in the Park

 

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