A holy temple with a luxury carmaker’s brand name on its letterhead? That could happen if Mercedes-Benz USA renames a Sandy Springs street for itself to celebrate its new corporate headquarters—while also forcing a new address on its neighbor, the Atlanta Georgia Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Mormon church will oppose the renaming of Barfield Road to Mercedes-Benz Drive, which goes before the City Council on March 7, according to metro Atlanta church spokesperson Bill Maycock. He called for a separation of church and brand.
“The Mercedes-Benz brand is known for prestige and luxury and class status and all that sort of thing,” Maycock said. “In the Atlanta Georgia Temple of the church, we don’t do any of that…It’s not what the Atlanta Temple is. It’s not what the Atlanta Temple teaches its members.”
MBUSA met with church leaders, but is driving ahead, according to company spokesperson Donna Boland.
“We don’t feel that the road renaming has an adverse impact or implication on church beliefs, but understand if the church feels it must voice its disagreement to the city,” Boland wrote in an email. “We are focused on being a valued member of the Sandy Springs community and hopefully that will be a more important factor than what this particular road is called.”
The road is currently called Barfield in honor of an old farming family, several members of whom also opposed the renaming idea when it was announced in late 2015. The proposal went quiet for over a year due to the controversy, but is back now that construction on the new headquarters at Abernathy and Barfield roads is underway.
MBUSA, which is relocating to Sandy Springs from New Jersey, said it has a 40-year “tradition” of naming streets around its facilities for the company. German-based Mercedes-Benz is known for using its name in branding, including recently purchasing the naming rights of Atlanta’s new football and soccer stadium.
While the Barfield Road renaming has yet to gain City Council approval, the city already agreed to paid costs associated with the renaming as part of a $3 million incentive and improvements package.
The renaming targets the section of Barfield between Abernathy and Mount Vernon Highway. About a third-of-a-mile long, that section includes some office buildings, townhomes and the Latter-day Saints’ complex.
The LDS complex is right next door to MBUSA’s headquarters site. It includes the Atlanta Georgia Temple at 6450 Barfield Road and a meetinghouse, or church, fronting on Glenridge Drive on the property’s western end. In the LDS church, a meetinghouse is used for typical worship and church activities, and is open to anyone. A temple, however, is the world’s holiest site in LDS belief, open to only certain members or for certain ceremonies, such as weddings or baptisms.
The Atlanta Georgia Temple opened in 1983, predating the city’s existence by more than two decades.
Maycock said that the LDS church opposes the street renaming on a variety of grounds, including the expense of changing documents and questions of whether it squares with city code. But the bottom line is a corporate brand name showing up on any temple document, from letterhead to wedding invitations.
“I think it’s mostly the concept of being forced to use the Mercedes-Benz brand,” Maycock said. “The teachings of the church and the practices of the church [are] a non-materialistic view of life as taught by Jesus and the New Testament…[and a view of] equality, that we are all equal as God’s children.”
The opposition is currently coming just from the church’s Sandy Springs location, but it is possible the situation will attract the interest of the mother church in Salt Lake City, Utah, Maycock said. Officials there did not have immediate comment.
Maycock said the church sent a letter to MBUSA about a year ago declaring its opposition. He and Boland agree that MBUSA looked at alternatives. Boland said MBUSA put the renaming on hold during the consideration period.
“Unfortunately, no alternative has proved to be viable, and so we have requested that the city move forward with its commitment to MBUSA to rename a portion of the road,” she said.
However, Boland could not immediately say what alternatives were considered or why they weren’t deemed viable. Maycock said alternatives the church suggested included putting the company name on a private road MBUSA is building across its property, or giving the headquarters building an artificial “Mercedes-Benz Drive” name that could be used along with the regular street address.
Maycock said the church will send a formal letter of opposition to the City Council.
“A rancher is entitled to brand his own cattle,” he said, “but not to brand the cattle of his neighbor.”