Several Barfield family members are opposing Mercedes-Benz USA’s plan to rename part of Barfield Road for itself.
The street name, honoring an old farming family, “may not mean much to other people, and certainly not to Mercedes-Benz, but it means a lot to me and my family,” Natalie Barfield of Gainesville wrote in a Jan. 3 letter to officials.
Meanwhile, there is talk of renaming another street named for MBUSA —Mercedes Drive in Montvale, N.J., where the carmaker was long headquartered until its surprise move to Sandy Springs was announced last year. In a reversal of the Sandy Springs situation, one option in New Jersey is replacing the Mercedes street name with that of an old farming family that previously owned the land, according to Montvale Mayor Roger Fyfe.
“Admittedly, there were those who wanted to spray-paint the street signs the day [MBUSA] announced they were leaving. (This is New Jersey, after all.),” Fyfe said in an email.
MBUSA informally notified Sandy Springs in November of its desire to rename part of Barfield Road, where its new headquarters will be constructed, as “Mercedes-Benz Drive.” The company has not yet filed a formal request, which will involve neighborhood notification and a public meeting, a city spokeswoman said.
The renaming drew opposition from Nancy Kite of Hapeville, a descendent of William Monroe Barfield, the last owner of the family farm for which the street is named. She called the renaming a “slap in the face.”
Natalie Barfield said she and six other family members—including her father and grandmother—also oppose the renaming. Like Kite, they do not live in Sandy Springs and learned of the street’s history through news reports.
The Barfield Road name should stay, Natalie Barfield said, “basically to keep my heritage and show my kids that’s my family’s road.” She added that locally known names are as important as famous ones.
“Is our city and state government going to allow big companies to come into our state, give those companies millions of dollars of incentives and tax breaks and also allow them to rename roads and take away Georgia’s history and my heritage?” Natalie asked in her letter to city and state officials.
In emailed responses provided by Natalie Barfield, City Councilman Ken Dishman said her perspective will factor into his decision and Mayor Rusty Paul said “the name change for a portion of the road to reflect our changing history in no way diminishes our recognition of our more distant past.”
MBUSA did not respond to questions. But the company has said opposition would not stop its proposal and that putting the company’s name on its headquarters street is itself a tradition.
In Montvale, Fyfe said, several proposals are “being knocked around in terms of a name change” for Mercedes Drive. One is “DePiero Road,” in honor of a family that sold its century-old farm to MBUSA for its headquarters 40 years ago. Another is “Wegmans Way” to recognize a new shopping center anchored by a Wegmans supermarket going up across the street. A third option is keeping the current name because MBUSA will still have a training facility in Montvale.
“Some have suggested Fyfe Road,” the mayor added, “but our ordinance only allows using the name of deceased former mayors and I’m not in any hurry to join that club.”
Fyfe said MBUSA’s move was “devastating” at the time, but his personal take is that renaming a street is worth it for a company that contributes locally.
“I can personally attest to their civic and community involvement,” he said of MBUSA. “If they wind up moving, so what? You can look at naming the street much like [naming] an arena or venue.”