Naked City

Port of No Return?

Naked City

Port Austin, the turbo-hyped "national broadband expo" where "suits, boots, and techies" were supposed to collectively "plug into the future of broadband content and technology," has been unplugged, at least for now.

It seems the founders of the high tech conference, scheduled for Nov. 9-11, spent plenty of time and energy gathering sponsors -- nearly 50 of them, including the Chamber of Commerce and Cox Enterprises, which owns major Port hyper the Austin American-Statesman -- but didn't manage to round up enough paying conferees to make it worth backers' "millions and millions" in cash and in-kind donations. That's according to FG Squared founder Jason Fellman, whose Web design and marketing company was a major financial backer and sponsor of the event. "The bottom line is, we didn't have enough paid attendees," says Fellman, who declined to elaborate on how many had signed up to attend. "We felt we had to make a judgment call. Was it the right thing to do? We'll see."

Port Austin was sunk, Fellman continues, by two factors: not enough money and way too little time. In retrospect, "We should have been given a full year to plan." Instead, conference backers started pounding the pavement last March, which gave them just eight months to secure funding, sponsors, speakers, and a vision for the inaugural version of what was to be a yearly event showcasing Austin's friendly business climate and "hip" high tech culture. (Other events scheduled in conjunction with Port Austin, including the Austin Software Council's Texas Software Symposium, Origin System's Ultima Online World Faire, and the University of Texas' Entertainment Law and Technology Conference, will go on.)

Did that other annual multimedia event have anything to do with Port Austin's millennial misfire? Fellman insists South by Southwest "absolutely was not" a factor; but the comparisons, he admits, started flying faster than you could say "obsolescence." Fellman says the only similarity between the two events is that "both have to do with multimedia. God forbid there should be two multimedia events in this town."

If Port Austin backers have anything to say about it, there still will be -- not this year, clearly, but maybe next. Right now, they're regrouping and weighing their options -- and their liabilities. If enough of this year's backers get back onboard for another go-round -- questionable in the case of the gun-shy city and Chamber but by no means implausible -- you might start seeing billboards for Port Austin 2001 about this time next year.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Port Austin, Chamber of Commerce, Cox Enterprises, FG Squared, Jason Fellman, South By Southwest

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