“Choice Hotels Lane” a Bad Choice for Rockville

Choice Hotels Lane?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

12 responses

  1. I see this as a cheap way of “pimping” out Rockville. The lack of consideration for Rockville’s History, the further blow dealt to our African American history and the pure tackiness of this is appalling. Its almost as appalling as “Rockville Do It” or what ever that horrific slogan is. Ask any middle schooler what “do it” means and they won’t respond “Go shopping in Town Square.

    Rockville – STOP before you take on the persona of a Las Vegas suburb.

  2. You’d think this would be a “no brainer,” i.e., Rockville wouldn’t do that! But…

  3. John Cooper-Martin

    Maybe they learned about our brand and decided to “Get into it.”

  4. This is more of what has been a trend for some time…cater to builders and developers at expense of citizens and hstoric Rockville.

  5. Thanks for the comments. If you’d like to express your views to the City (for or against), send an email to Planning.Commission@rockvillemd.gov by noon on Wednesday, April 13. That’s a bit early, but it ensures that the commissioners and staff have sufficient time to include your thoughts in the public hearing that evening. Doesn’t have to be long or poetic, just be clear if you support or oppose the street name change.

  6. Max,

    In the second paragraph of your post you write: “Although the name change was proffered as an incentive by the City of Rockville (really? really??)…” So the answer to your question is: “No! No!! Not really!!!”

    The relevant part of the document that you cite, slightly misleadingly states: “This street naming was mentioned as an incentive to attract the Choice Hotel International headquarters, however, the Planning Commission process and decision was made clear in advance. The City indicated that their ‘best effort’ would be made.”

    The only entity that “mentioned” this was Choice Hotel International. The City did not, as it could not!

    A more accurate representation of what has surpassed and where the process stands would be: “Choice Hotel International requested, as part of their negotiation, that the street be renamed, but were informed that the Mayor and Council are not empowered to offer such an incentive; and that, if Choice Hotel International wants to pursue such renaming, they will need to make their argument to the Rockville Planning Commission (where it is inappropriate for the Mayor and Council to weigh in on issues of such approval).

    I hope that this lends some clarity to the role of the Mayor and Council on this issue. Certainly, if it ever becomes appropriate for the Mayor and Council to weigh in with respect to the street renaming, it should absolutely be in an open meeting for all to see where each member of the Council stands.

    1. Regretfully there’s no clarity on the role of the Mayor and Council on this issue. At tonight’s Planning Commission meeting, Councilman Pierzchala testified that the street name change was approved as part of the incentive package to attract Choice Hotels International to Rockville. Mayor Marcuccio, on the other hand, testified that no decision had been made, it was only discussed. Of course, all of these discussions are held in secret during the Council’s executive sessions, so we won’t ever really know who is telling the truth.

  7. IMO it would be a bad precedent to set, and it’s be tacky at best, in addition to the other concerns already stated in the article.

  8. At tonight’s Planning Commission meeting following a three-hour presentation and discussion, the Commission voted 4-2 to reject changing the name of East Middle Lane to Choice Hotels Lane. Follow the Twitter #RKV to see how the meeting progressed.

  9. What a relief (that they voted it down). Hope that doesn’t reverse itself somewhere down the line.

  10. i kept trying to find out what the incentive package entailed…don’t like the secrecy. but i would doubt the mayor and council would promise something that wasn’t even in their control.

    to say a street name would be “at the expense of citizens” is just hysteria and balooney. .

    i think your points are reasonable, max, and have to do with history, mapping and the effect on other businesses.

    1. Peerless reported that the request to rename was rejected by a 4-2 Planning Commission vote.

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