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November 15. 2012 9:30PM

NH kiosks wired up to help visitors to Berlin, Gorham


Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce President Joanne Roy finds shelter under the kiosk at Glen Avenue in Berlin during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX)

ANDROSCOGGIN VALLEY - The new informational kiosks that sit at the entrance of downtown Berlin and on the Gorham Town Common will help visitors find their way around the area, the second phase of an effort to provide tourists with all they need to enjoy what Coos County has to offer.

The first phase was getting a website for New Hampshire Grand up and running, and those who stop at the kiosks will reap the benefits of that, too. The kiosks are hot spots, with free Internet service.

New Hampshire Grand is the branding effort for the region, and those who access the Internet at the kiosks will find their mobile devices open to the site.

A rendition of the kiosks was unveiled at the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce annual meeting last February.

"We're a long way from a little paper model to this," chamber President Joanne Roy said Tuesday, smiling broadly despite the cold rain slashing down at those standing at the entrance of downtown Berlin.

The occasion was the ribbon cutting for the kiosks, the results of a cooperative economic development initiative.

"We feel so privileged to be the first recipients," Diana Nelson, city councilor and chamber board member, said, noting how downtown champion Sylvia Poulin had advocated for Berlin to be first. The chamber kicked in $22,000 to get one in Gorham, too.

Poulin said it is "such a key time for us" to have the kiosk.

The Moving Downtown Forward initiative, which is seeking to revitalize the core of the city, has the posts in for its new sign, which will be solar-powered, further highlighting, Poulin said, that Berlin is "the new energy city."

Cathy Conway of Northern Community Investment Corporation said the kiosks are a good example of how dreams can become reality. It's a plus for Gorham. The town has tourism infrastructure, with hotels, motels and inns side by side with dining establishments and small retail shops.

Speaking at the ribbon cutting in the Gorham Common, Denise Vallee said the kiosk will be helpful for visitors, as the town's information booth is not open year-round and the state's visitor center in neighboring Shelburne was not reopened this year because of budget cuts. That visitor center, on Route 2, is near the Maine border.

"That makes it even more important than before," she said.

The kiosk will allow visitors to get all the information they need on local dining and lodging options, along with other local business information and attractions and activities. Conway said that the touch screens that were in the original plans proved unfeasible, as the weather conditions challenged the technology. The kiosks are, however, WiFi hot spots, and mobile devices with Internet capacity will open up to New Hampshire Grand's website.

"I'm really happy to be here, even under these conditions," Roy said.

Over the last five years, she continued, the chamber has focused on finding cost-effective ways to offer marketing opportunities to its members, as the kiosk does. The board, she said, felt the membership in Gorham is equally as important. It will also benefit from "the best real estate our area has to offer" with Main Street advertising even for those members not on the main thoroughfares. The placement of the kiosk ran into some delays, with the roll-out coming during a quiet season for businesses.

Joanne Roy said the board has taken that into consideration and is offering a payment plan for advertising placements so that the businesses won't have to pay it in a lump sum.

The New Hampshire Grand kiosk project is funded by a $50,000 grant from the Neil and Louise Tillotson Foundation and a $200,000 grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.


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