AT&T asks Skowhegan for temporary spot on city grounds, but officials reject ‘unusual’ request

SKOWHEGAN – Local authorities are torn by a proposal to allow communications company AT&T to set up a temporary booth on city property during the summer months.

The board considered the proposal on Tuesday, ultimately voting against the idea after a majority cited that an unusual precedent could be set and how other companies would be disadvantaged. AT&T has requested to use two parking spaces next to the Chamber of Commerce building at 23 Commercial Street for a temporary stand.

“I think we are perhaps setting a very unusual precedent,” said Managing Director Christine Almand. “I don’t know of any other towns or cities that allow businesses to set up parking spaces on their public property. I suggested they would be better suited in a private property situation.

But some board members were divided on the issue.

Selectmen Todd Smith and Charles Robbins were in favor of the app, citing that Skowhegan is known to be business-friendly.

“I’m afraid there are other companies looking at this and referring to it and saying ‘maybe we’re not wanted here,'” Smith said. “Maybe AT&T is looking for the vibe of the city, maybe they’re interested in the Run of River project… I’m not going to try to guess what they think, but I think it is. a business that is considering relocating to our city and we’re basically saying you’re too big, rent a space.

Jason Gayne, executive director of the Skowhegan Regional Chamber of Commerce, told the meeting that AT&T Mobility is looking to set up a temporary store during the summer months to gain customers and is eventually considering a storefront.

Gayne added that the parking spaces that would be impacted are on the Chamber of Commerce / Visitor Center side and would be used by AT&T on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in June, July, August and September. In total, the company would occupy the space for up to 42 days, he said.

“What they’re trying to do is get customers first because (AT&T) is unknown in this area when it comes to service,” Gayne said. “And then, as they gain customers, they want to have a retail store in the community. It’s a way of getting them to get clients and letting people know they’re in the area.

Additionally, AT&T offered free Wi-Fi for people downtown during the summer months. Doing this, he said, would encourage tourists to stop in town to access the wifi signal, which could potentially increase sales for local businesses.

But President Paul York has expressed concern over allowing this, saying it could set a precedent for others trying to start a new business “to see if it will work and take off.”

He added that it might give others the idea to approach the city, “ask us to sit in the parking lot for free all summer to see if their business is going to take off because their game plan is to get going. a store front. “

“I don’t really see a difference in having someone else do this versus (AT&T) to approve it,” York said.

Selectwoman Betty Austin also objected to the idea, saying that a company as large as AT&T should consider renting a storefront instead.

“It’s a big company that could afford to rent a spot,” Austin said. “We have a few small storefronts downtown that they could rent out. I just think if they really wanted to do that, they could rent a spot. It’s a pretty big business. I don’t know why they can’t rent somewhere; it’s not like AT&T can’t afford to lease.

Almand also said the company’s request for parades and processions may not be the appropriate way to review such a plan and encouraged elected officials to work with the planning board to develop an ordinance. more concise.

“I am very supportive and I appreciate all the businesses that exist in our city; they all do the hard work it takes to build a strong business that we can all support, which includes some business expenses, ”Almand said. “I think it’s very unusual to be able to use city property, paid for by taxpayers, for free to do business. “

She also suggested accommodating them at the Skowhegan Welcome and Business Center, but after inquiring, she was told AT&T would only have two weeks there.

“It could also be a disadvantage for their competitors who are already there,” Almand said. “Most businesses have expenses when they start up that include renting, owning a property, or subletting another property for a lower amount for a short-term solution to determine if they can or no try it. “

Gayne added that if the city is trying to be more business-friendly, allowing a company like AT&T to come in, potentially gaining customers and potentially becoming a taxpayer is something the city should be open to.

“We’re trying to become a more business-friendly community,” Gayne said. “If you don’t have clients and it’s a big expense, let’s give them a chance to try, see if they can win anything, get them to open up and become a taxpayer in a community. business friendly. “

In addition, Gayne said, there is no order against this type of operation.

“If you think this is going to become a problem, maybe a prescription needs to be taken, but we’re trying to do everything according to the rules,” Gayne said. “It’s a real opportunity for them to come to town and I don’t see that as a bad advantage. It’s giving businesses an opportunity.

Verizon Wireless, a competitor, is a member of the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as AT&T.

In the end, the article was not passed, with Smith and Robbins in favor and York, Austin and Staples against.

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