Discussions about bringing PopTech back to the town of Camden in 2019 have been underway, ever since the announcement at the end of the conference this year, that Pop Tech 2018 will take place at Point Lookout in Northport.

How it began

PopTech was inaugurated in Camden in 1997. Since then, PopTech has held its annual conference in Camden the last weekend in October. Over the past two decades, participation at the annual PopTech conference has doubled in size. The event is welcomed by many local businesses, particularly lodging and restaurants, for its end of the season boost to the bottom line.

In Oct. 1997, a weekend-long Camden Conference on Communication hosted "a star studded array of telecommunciations guru and moguls," according to The Camden Herald.

Bob Metcalf, then a part-time Lincolnville resident, and one of the inventors of the Ethernet, gave the keynote speech. Metcalf railed against modems, calling them an "abomination" and called instead for "continuous access" to the Internet. He blamed a state policy favoring a single telephone company in Maine (Bell Atlantic) over independent Internet providers for a lack of innovation in the state.

John Scully, who in 1997 was already a former CEO of Apple Computers, spoke about how the Internet was text centered, and had only penetrated 15 percent of the population. The Herald reported that Scully predicted "by the year 2007 it will be multimedia and ubiquitous, broadcast in real time and no longer needing to be dialed up but instantly available through personal computers and televisions." Harvard and MIT professors, Bell Atlantic's CEO and then Gov. Angus King all spoke about their visions for a wired future for the workplace, leisure and culture, and for the state of Maine.

Metcalf and Sculley are still affiliated with PopTech as Directors Emeritus.

Can Camden bring Pop Tech back?

Camden Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell said Dec. 21 that she has discussed with the current president of PopTech, Leetha Filderman, about the decision to move to Point Lookout in 2018, and what it might take to bring the conference back to downtown Camden.

Caler-Bell said she has learned that Pop Tech has evolved from a presentation format into a more interactive venue. Instead of a large theater with presentations on the stage before a large audience, the conference needs smaller rooms where groups of conference participants can interact. Over the past decade, rooms for smaller groups were available around town, in the former Bayview Cinema space and commercial office space at the Knox Mill, but now, those spaces have been developed into new uses.

Cost is another issue Caler-Bell said. Years ago, the tourist season was over by the end of October, and hotel rooms were inexpensive. Currently, the tourist season extends further into the year, and PopTech is finding that the cost of lodging in Camden is more costly.

The town of Camden finds itself in a situation where there is competition for events like PopTech. Caler-Bell said she recognizes that PopTech is internationally-known, and PopTech organizers are aware of the environment, where cities provide incentives to retain festivals like PopTech. While PopTech organizers realize Camden is limited in its ability to incentivize, they are looking for more of a partnership in the future. The question is no longer "just how the town is benefiting, but how they are benefiting from being in Camden," she said.

Caler-Bell said discussions about creating that partnership are in progress. She has reached out to the local lodging group, and "they are amenable." In the past, the town has talked about renovating the third floor of the Opera House. She expects more discussion about how the third floor can be renovated to add bathrooms, running water and smaller meeting rooms.

Conference fees

Conference fees are another topic of discussion, and affect PopTech, the Camden Conference, the Camden International Film Festival and events hosted by non-profit organizations and schools.

The Camden Select Board has discussed Opera House fees at two meetings in December, and will continue the discussion at its next meeting Jan. 9. Opera House and harbor fees are typically set in December, and conferences rely on knowing what the fees are as they budget for the next year. Caler-Bell said that a long-time practice of Select Board approval of Opera House fees has not been followed for a number of years, but that practice will be reinstated. The board also approves harbor and Snow Bowl fees.