A Mormon holy temple in Sandy Springs will not have a luxury car-maker’s name on its letterhead after all.
In a hastily arranged surprise compromise approved by the City Council March 7, Mercedes-Benz USA will still get to rename part of Barfield Road after itself. But “Mercedes-Benz Drive” will apply only to a short piece of the road directly in front of its own new headquarters site, not the larger section that would have forced a corporate-branding address change on several neighbors’ properties, including the Atlanta Georgia Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS church objected to the renaming, saying that a luxury brand name had no business being on the address of a temple dedicated to Christian anti-materialism, and members of the Barfield family opposed losing the name as well. Continuing a religious theme, Mayor Rusty Paul likened the council’s compromise to the Biblical judgment of Solomon and its proverbial splitting of the baby.
Councilmember Gabriel Sterling, who was credited with hammering out the 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 metro Atlanta LDS church spokesperson who led the opposition, told the council he is “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.”
“Hopefully, we’ve arrived at a spot where further comment isn’t really necessary,” Everitt said.
In fact, there was plenty of further comment, both pro and con, from a crowd that turned out to voice excitement about branding Sandy Springs or concerns about losing history and setting a corporate street-naming precedent.
The 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 using an artificial corporate address along with the actual Barfield Road address. Also unexplained was why the council committed to the renaming without consulting other property owners beforehand.
While Sterling and other officials described MBUSA as compromising out of neighborly sympathy, the company was dismissive of the church’s concerns in public statements as recently as Feb. 24, as was the Sandy Springs Perimeter Chamber of Commerce in a March 1 email drumming up support for the renaming. The compromise came only after the dispute gained press coverage, which extended as far as the LDS mother church’s hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Originally, MBUSA sought to rename about a third-of-a-mile of Barfield between Abernathy Road and Mount Vernon Highway. And that was the proposal on the council’s officially posted March 7 agenda, before Mayor Paul took the unusual step of announcing Sterling’s compromise motion before the hearing began in what the mayor called “not our normal process.”
The compromise scales the renaming back to affect about 500 feet of Barfield at the Abernathy intersection, where MBUSA’s headquarters is under construction. That leaves the LDS temple—the car-maker’s direct neighbor—with its current address of 6450 Barfield.
MBUSA’s only 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.”
“I’ve seen a number of posts on social media which I think have been somewhat unfair to the character of [MBUSA],” Jan Paul said, while adding that the temple is a “sacred institution that should be honored and respected,” and that the Barfield name deserves respect, too.
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.
However, lost in controversy about MBUSA’s street address is what city name it will actually put on its letterhead. City leaders are perpetually frustrated by locals using Atlanta in their addresses.
Councilmember Tibby DeJulio pressed Everitt with the key question: “Is Mercedes-Benz going to be located in Sandy Springs, Georgia, or is Mercedes-Benz going to be located in Atlanta, Georgia?”
The MBUSA attorney said that “Sandy Springs” will be on his business card, but did not explicitly commit the entire company to using the city’s name, and noted that postal shipping often forces the use of “Atlanta.”
Compromise or precedent?
Jan Paul, Mahaffey and other renaming supporters were also in favor of the compromise, leading the mayor to liken the street-dividing to the famously wise Bible king.
“You could also tonight have talked about Solomon and the parable of the baby,” Mayor Paul told a rabbi who had given the meeting’s invocation, adding that the council similarly sought how to “parcel the baby in a way that everybody comes out ahead.”
In the actual Bible story about two self-proclaimed mothers arguing over a baby’s parentage, however, the point of Solomon’s baby-cutting idea is different. The dishonest, false mother was exposed by her willingness to accept fatally cutting the baby in half, while the honest, true mother was the one willing to give the baby away rather than allow the butchery. In a similar approach, several opponents of the Barfield Road renaming said even a little bit is too much.
One speaker 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 that section of 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.