Faced with angering either a world-famous automaker or the Mormon Church, the Sandy Springs City Council on March 7 split the difference on a controversial new “Mercedes-Benz Drive” street name.
The city will rename only the piece of Barfield Road in front of Mercedes-Benz USA’s new headquarters and not the portion in front of the Mormon temple next door. Members of the temple had publicly opposed having a luxury car brand in its address.
It appears to be the first corporate-brand street naming in the city’s 10-year history. At the council meeting, supporters said that naming a part of the street Mercedes-Benz Drive will help the city’s own global branding. Opponents said it paves the way for more private branding of public streets. Some opponents of “Mercedes-Benz Drive” also have complained that the name may create confusion by applying to only 500 feet of a street.
Councilmember Gabriel Sterling, who was credited with hammering out the quick renaming compromise, said the council tried to respect both church and brand after committing to allowing — and helping to pay for — the renaming more than a year ago as part of an incentive package to lure MBUSA here from its former New Jersey headquarters.
“We had a commitment to Mercedes,” Sterling said. On the other hand, he added, “We do take our history seriously. We do take our religious institutions seriously.”
Bill Maycock, a spokesperson for the metro Atlanta Mormon Church who led the opposition to the renaming, told the council he was “grateful” to the city and MBUSA for the compromise. “I’m in favor of it,” he said.
MBUSA attorney Matthew Everitt said the company supports the renaming compromise, adding that he lives on nearby Cotswold Lane, “so I take a personal interest in making sure we get this right.”
The city does not keep a single list of streets it has renamed or the reasons behind the decisions, but city spokesperson Sharon Kraun provided some examples. In nine previous street renamings, the main motivation appeared to be avoiding confusion by removing a compass direction from the name, or renaming a disconnected section of a long street.
Two of the previous renamings were a form of branding for local schools: Colonel Drive became Pride Place in a reference to Sandy Springs Charter Middle School’s slogan and Heards Drive became Raider Drive to honor Riverwood International Charter School’s mascot.
In the 2010 Raider Drive renaming, the council made a similar decision as it did in the MBUSA case, limiting the extent of the renaming in response to a neighbor’s opposition. However, while Raider Drive is a form of branding for the school, the underlying motive was reducing confusion at an intersection of three streets that all had “Heards” in their names.
Compromise vs. precedent
The March 7 compromise — unanimously approved by the council, with Councilmember Andy Bauman absent — left several details unexplained, including why MBUSA rejected such alternatives as naming a private driveway, or whether it will use Sandy Springs rather than Atlanta in its business address.
Also unexplained was why the council committed to the renaming without consulting other property owners beforehand. The company and the city did not respond to follow-up questions later.
Originally, MBUSA sought to rename about a third-of-a-mile of Barfield between Abernathy Road and Mount Vernon Highway. The compromise scales the renaming back to rename only about 500 feet of Barfield at the Abernathy intersection, where MBUSA’s headquarters is under construction. That leaves the Mormon temple — the car-maker’s direct neighbor — with its current address of 6450 Barfield.
MBUSA’s public rationale for the renaming was a company “tradition” of branding streets around its facilities. (Its former hometown of Montvale, N.J., is in the process of de-branding one of those streets.) Local supporters of the renaming suggested it could help the city’s brand as well, and was a harmless favor to a charitable company.
Jan Paul, the executive director of Leadership Sandy Springs and the mayor’s spouse, was among them.
“Mercedes-Benz has been a very good community partner,” she said, presenting herself as speaking on behalf of all Sandy Springs nonprofits. She called the compromise “good and fair.”
Tom Mahaffey, president and CEO of the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber, said the street renaming would “give us a global identity.”
“Can you imagine Mercedes employees traveling around the world and when asked, ‘Where do you live and where do you work?’ [the answer is] Mercedes Drive, Sandy Springs, Georgia?” Mahaffey asked, drawing some chuckles and snorts from the audience.
One speaker opposing the decision said that renaming “even for a small fraction” of Barfield sets a precedent for allowing “Starbucks Street” or other corporate rebrandings to come.
Natalie Barfield of Gainesville, who says she is a descendant of road namesake William Barfield, was among them. She noted that Mercedes-Benz already put its brand name on Atlanta’s downtown stadium and asked whether the city would similarly rename a Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In an automotive pun, she asked MBUSA to “recall” the renaming, adding, to applause, “This is for my ancestors and for my family name.”
Andrea Ferrara, an owner in the Granville condos on Barfield, was among those in favor of Barfield’s history and questioning why one of the world’s most famous corporations needs to rename a city street as marketing.
“Mercedes-Benz does not need more commercialism, nor does Sandy Springs,” she said.
Sandy Springs Street Renamings
The following is an informal list of Sandy Springs street renamings since 2005 from city records and Reporter archives. Some renamings applied only to parts of the streets.
Barfield Road to Mercedes-Benz Drive
Brandon Mill Road to Adair Lane
Central Park West to Central Parkway
Central Parkway to Central Park Drive
Colonel Drive to Pride Place
Heards Drive to Raider Drive
Peachtree-Dunwoody Road to Hunters Crossing Drive
Peachtree-Dunwoody Road to Roberts Court
South Trimble Road to Trimble Road
West Peachtree-Dunwoody Road to Peachtree-Dunwoody Road
The specific reason for most of the renamings were not immediately available. However, Raider Drive was named for the mascot of Riverwood International Charter School as a favor in a renaming primarily intended to reduce confusion at an intersection of three streets with “Heards” in their names. Pride Place refers to a slogan of the Sandy Springs Charter Middle School; it replaced Colonel Drive, which was named for the mascot of the former Crestview High School, which shuttered in the 1990s. That school’s mascot apparently was an imitation of a former University of Mississippi mascot that became controversial for its likeness of a Confederacy-era colonel.