Security cameras, free Wi-Fi coming to Waterfront Park

The Beaufort GazetteMay 8, 2008 

Visitors to Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park might soon be able to surf the Internet for free. They also may be able to watch themselves -- on the Internet -- surfing the Internet in the park.

Beaufort-based Internet Services of the Low Country, or ISLC, is working out an agreement with downtown commerce group Main Street Beaufort, USA, under which ISLC would provide free wireless Internet access in the park. ISLC would attempt to recoup its costs or turn a profit by selling advertising to downtown merchants.

The ads would be posted on a "portal" Web page that appears when someone in the park first connects to the Internet. The page could also include downtown maps and restaurant menus.

While ISLC is wiring the park for Internet use, it also is expected to ready the park for video cameras that would use the same network.

Two years ago, the city looked at installing video cameras in Waterfront Park and found it would cost about $55,000 for two security cameras. At a City Council workshop Tuesday, however, city manager Scott Dadson said the cost of the technology had plummeted, and Beaufort now can acquire cameras for $1,200 to $1,500 each.

That cost, however, does not include the equipment needed to record the images in Waterfront Park, which Police Chief Jeff Dowlling said he wants.

"(Cameras) are a proven tool to be able to go back and grab that additional piece of evidence and maybe solve a crime by the use of cameras," he said. "To think someone is going to be monitoring the camera 24 hours a day is unrealistic."

Just having the cameras in the park -- even without the capability to record -- could serve as a deterrent to crime, however, City Council members said Tuesday. Councilman Mike Sutton suggested a live feed of the images could be shown on ISLC's portal Web page for the park.

"It would be great for deterring you from cheating on your wife," Dadson quipped.

If the images are available only to the police department, they will be delivered to the department via ISLC's network.

The police department surveyed the park in 2005, when the city began renovating it, and chose six locations for cameras. Dowling, however, noted that the technology has changed -- and gotten cheaper -- and he would like many more cameras, especially if they are wireless cameras, which can be moved.

"I'd like about 50 (cameras)," he said. "I'd love to use them in other parts of the city. ... If I have a problem area, I'd love to set a camera up in that problem area, and some of (the cameras) can be well disguised."

ISLC owner Walt Gnann said he expects there will be a combination of wired and wireless cameras in the park.

The city has not determined how many cameras it will purchase or where they will be placed, but Dadson said he expects to purchase them during fiscal year 2009, which begins July 1.

Main Street Beaufort could finalize the deal with ISLC as soon as June 5, when its board of directors meets. As part of the agreement, Main Street Beaufort would help sell ads to downtown businesses and would serve as a liaison to the City Council.

The City Council then would need to approve the deal before wiring could begin, which would take one to two months.

Main Street Beaufort executive director Joy Locke said she expects ISLC's portal Web page will be great for downtown businesses.

"When someone goes into the park and turns on their computer ... we will have a captive audience, and they're just within walking distance to that retail business or that restaurant or that bank or whatever they are looking for," she said. "Anytime that someone sees something interesting on that portal page and goes to that business, that is economic development."

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