Choice Hotels International is proposing to move their world headquarters to downtown Rockville but it includes a request to rename “Middle Lane” to “Choice Hotels Lane.” Really, this is no April Fool’s Joke–in a letter to the City of Rockville on March 11, Dan Slear of Choice Hotels International stated, ”To clarify, Choice requests to change East Middle Lane in its entirety to Choice Hotels Lane.” It’ll be considered at the April 13, 2011 Planning Commission Meeting–but if it happens, the joke will be on us.
Although the name change was proffered as an incentive by the City of Rockville (really? really??), the staff report to the Planning Commission mentioned several concerns:
- it raised eyebrows at the Emergency Communications Center and the Montgomery-National Capitol Park and Planning Commission, who not only were concerned about confusion by emergency responders (are we going to the hotel or the street?) but thought it odd that we’d rename a street after a company.
- it changes the name of this street three times within a three block stretch–West Middle Lane, Choice Hotels Lane, and Park Road–in downtown. Boy, that’ll help people find their way around downtown.
- downtown businesses, such as Gordon Biersch and HSBC Bank, who would be effected by the name change haven’t had sufficient time to respond, but I’m guessing they don’t want to change their neutral address to one that advertises another business.
- it changes the name of an historic street, indeed, the name of a street that’s been part of downtown Rockville since 1803, when the first map of Rockville was drawn. Let’s see, which has the better track record? Middle Lane has been around for more than 200 years while Choice Hotels has been around since 1981.
I’ll add a couple of my concerns:
- We’re taking a public street–a public asset–and converting it to commercial advertising. Yes, we have FedEx Stadium and the Verizon Center, but those companies pay big money annually for the privilege for an fixed period. And as a major downtown street, it’ll transform everything it touches (eg., maps, stationery, street signs) into free advertising. Yes, companies have roads named after them, but they’re either private streets within their corporate campuses (eg., Google Drive) or in honor of an historic business. If we’re going to sell off street names, let’s make it a public auction to all the business on the street so they all have a chance to benefit (Gordon Biersch Strasse?). Better yet, let’s auction off the duplicate street names (e.g. Reading Terrace/Avenue, Bradley Avenue/Court), which will both reduce confusion and earn revenue.
- If the company name changes, does the street name change again? Choice Hotels started in 1939 as Quality Courts United, became Quality Motels in 1969, then Quality Inns in 1972, and became Choice Hotels International in 1981–looks like it’s past due for a name change. Choice Hotels International operates a variety of hotels, so possible alternatives could be Econolodge Avenue, Comfort Inn Court, or Rodeway Inn Road, Rodeway Inn Way, or just Rode Way. And if the company is sold or goes bust, do you really think the new buyers will want to keep the old company name? What’s that leave us? Enron Avenue, anyone?
- It continues the erasure of the historic African American presence in this section of downtown Rockville, which began with the demolition of houses, businesses, schools, and churches in the 1960s for the construction of the Magruder’s shopping center and repeated just a few years ago with the construction of the Town Square. If you’re not aware of this, just follow the various plaques around downtown that show what’s been lost. The final blow will be the elimination of the street where this community lived and worked (“Middle Lane? Where’s that?”). It’s a strange approach for a company that values diversity: “At Choice, our approach to diversity is very simple. It means we care about more than just gender, race and cultural diversity.” Gee, let’s focus on gender, race, and cultural diversity–you haven’t quite got that figured out.
But this tactic isn’t surprising–companies are doing it all over in an effort to give their brand name more visibility in a world that’s cluttered with advertising. But it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. What is surprising is that the City of Rockville suggested the idea–really? Really? REALLY??? Perhaps it’s time to designate some streets as historic landmarks so the Mayor and Council won’t be tempted to tinker with our heritage.