REGIS 2.0 Is Coming

March 21, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — A million dollar upgrade to the Regional Geographic Information System (REGIS) is nearing its completion, and access to two levels of mapping systems, some snazzy tools, and a load of current land-use data will be offered when it’s finished.

“We will have opportunities available for the universities and the other institutions of higher learning to take advantage of these tools. And, perhaps, a system that allows the private sector to participate in a little more limited fashion, but still participate and be able to use these tools,” said Don Stypula, executive director of the Grand Valley Metro Council.

REGIS is an agency of the Metro Council, but with a separate board and staff. About 20 of the regional planner’s 33 members are participating in REGIS, helping to fund operations of the system and contributing data to it.

Some of the land-use tools, such as finders for parcels and zoning, are currently available to the public.

“We have what we call the Internet public mapping service,” said Stypula. “When you click on the REGIS icon on the GVMC site, you actually have a selection there for the public to take advantage of some publicly available REGIS services.”

When the upgrade is done, current functions will come up more quickly and a few more tools will be available. But it’s likely that builders, developers, engineers and architects will have to pay a fee to use the newer services.

“We’re also playing around with an idea that local governments might be able to kind of window-in on REGIS — the ones that aren’t participating, perhaps — and get different levels that they can offer to their citizenry as another way to get it to the public,” said Andy Bowman, Metro Council planning director and interim REGIS director.

Bowman told the Business Journal that the REGIS staff is also trying to determine what type of applications or pieces of software those in the local real estate industry would like to see added to the system.

“We’re going to be investigating that in the near future,” he said.

Any fees REGIS collects from the private sector’s use of the system will be spent on upgrading the system. A charge, though, hasn’t been set yet.

“It’s going to take a lot of care and upkeep to make sure that all of this data remains current, accurate and really working to everyone’s advantage,” said Bowman.

“There is an ongoing operational cost to keep this thing viable and useful.”

The REGIS budget is $1.1 million this year, down by 30 percent from last year.

The revised system will tie the data to the maps, and the data can be analyzed through the mapping-based platform. And not only is the system being updated, but the information has also been brought up to date.

“All of the lines fit together. All of the data fit together. You have a regional snapshot when you are out there looking for information when you’re a REGIS member,” said Stypula. “It’s important to have that data updated as much as possible.”

Bowman said the current upgrade would give the system greater flexibility and enhance the interaction within REGIS. One improvement will allow the Internet mapping service for the public to run faster and smoother. Another will make the members’ Internet mapping service more robust.

“It will also present the data in a much more coherent layout,” he said.

The original REGIS cost close to $15 million to build out and the upgrade will add another $1 million to the total tab. REGIS is getting the latest GIS software, known as Arc Products, from ESRI Inc. Stypula said the Metro Council is likely the first and only user of the newest Arc product, considered to be the top operational software for GIS systems.

The ArcGIS 9 environment includes ArcView, the primary GIS tool; ArcEditor, a data-editing tool; and ArcIMS, the Internet mapping system.

“What’s cool about this and why there is so much expense involved in it is that we’re also deep enough, detailed enough and accurate enough in this data to be able to allow full functionality right down to the local, if not development, level. And that is why everybody really wants this thing,” said Bowman.

“It’s basically a full spectrum of data from the most detailed all the way to that regional snapshot,” he added.

The Metro Council created REGIS as an independent agency in 1997, and the electronic database and mapping service went online about five years ago. Bowman said it shouldn’t be too much longer before REGIS 2.0 makes its much-anticipated debut. The public mapping service is up and running, and direct links from a desktop to REGIS, but not through the Internet, is running, too.

“We’re just about there,” said Bowman of finishing the upgrade. “We had a staff meeting last Friday and we’re rolling out some of the last few tools.”    

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