News Column

Downtown walking tour app delayed

June 9, 2014

By Jennifer Hall, St. Joseph News-Press, Mo.

June 09--A new phone application to give users a better look at Downtown St. Joseph isn't quite ready. However, its creators hope a web-based version of the tour, and a survey, can ensure all kinks are worked out before it reaches the app store.

"The website is running and (the tour) can be done from there," said Roni Mauer, business financing specialist with the Mo-Kan Regional Council.

Those wanting to take part in the survey, which enters them in a chance to win an iPad2, can simply e-mail to receive their pin number. Jeremy Jensen is an intern for Mo-Kan who helped create the survey. Participants also need to download a free QR reader from their App Store; they'll need it later.

Once a pin number is received, users are asked to go to to begin the tour. After arriving at the first location of the tour, users scan the QR bar code posted at the building, enter their pin when prompted and begin the tour.

However, those wanting to take the tour do not have to take part in the survey. Users do not need to have a pin number to take the tour itself.

The last stop on the tour will require another scan of a bar code, completing the walk and prompting the pin number and completion of a survey.

The survey kicked off June 5 and will conclude July 1. Ms. Mauer said results will be reviewed so they can be worked into improvements for the app. The first 100 participants of the survey will be entered into a random drawing to win the iPad2, which was donated by American Business & Technology.

Block Walk St. Joe is a virtual walking tour in the form of a smart phone app. It showcases various historic buildings and sites throughout Downtown, encouraging users to utilize walking as their form of transportation.

Not only does the app give a basic history of the buildings, architecture and various businesses that once occupied them, it informs users of the distance they have walked along the tour.

Mo-Kan received around $10,000 through the Heartland Foundation's Healthy Eating, Active Lifestyle (HEAL) grant for the development of the app. The grant requires a 100 percent match. Money was approved by the Downtown Community-Improvement District Downtown board for $5,000, as well as $5,000 of in-kind donations from several area sponsors, including Better Block, Allied Arts Council, St. Joseph Community Improvement, Mo-Kan Regional Council, Museum-Hill Neighborhood Association, St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau, North Kansas City Hospital, Heartland Foundation and Heartland Health.

In total, around $20,000 was raised to produce the app, which was designed by St. Joe Web.

While the web-based version of the app is available to some Downtown residents, business owners and patrons are somewhat discouraged that the actual app isn't available yet.

"I've had a lot of complaints," said Becky Boerkircher, of the St. Joseph Downtown Partnership. "But I'm at a disadvantage because I don't know anything about it. So I've directed them to Mo-Kan."

Tabitha Nielson said she heard it would be available during Better Block and was excited to try it out with her husband.

"We tried to download it (during Better Block) but couldn't," she said. "We weren't aware that we could have used a browser to do it on a website."

In the weeks leading up to Better Block in early May, the organization advertised Block Walk St. Joe, but there was some confusion as to whether it would be available in the App Store. It was, however, up and running using a web browser on a smart phone.

Suddenlink and TechTeam sponsored a Wi-Fi "hot spot" per Mo-Kan's request during Better Block, and more specifically to support those wanting to do the Block Walk tour.

"We didn't know we had this money until March," Ms. Mauer said. "Our goal was to get something to show the public in May. But it's really a mobile app, so the best way to view it is on your phone. It will be a different experience (when it's available)."

As of June 9, the app is not available in the App Store or on Android's Google Play. Ms. Mauer said the delay, which they anticipated, is caused mainly by licensing technicalities of the app process.

"We're trying to design something that will be great at the end," she said. "It's community-based and free."

Others, however, are more concerned with the use of tax money to fund an app that may not be ready until the end of July. Around $5,000 of CID money was used to fund the app.

The Community Improvement District (CID) Downtown was established in 2011. The half-cent sales tax applies on all purchases made within a 113-acre area, roughly bounded by Interstate 229 on the west, 10th Street on the east, Faraon Street on the north and Charles and Sylvanie streets on the south.

Previous reports indicate the tax generates a projected $130,000 annually. As more businesses locate to the area and property values rise, that number could increase.

The CID revenue is managed by a board of Downtown business owners and property owners that does not answer to City Hall. Members of the board include Bobbi Jo Hughes, Ron Barbosa, Roni Mauer, Lee Sawyer, John Spencer, Royce Balak and Teresa Fankhauser.

Jennifer Hall can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPHall.


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Source: St. Joseph News-Press (MO)

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