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 Atlanta Georgia Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 6450 Barfield Road in Sandy Springs. (Google Earth)

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.

Lingering questions

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.

A photo identified as William Monroe Barfield, the last owner of the Barfield family property on Barfield Road, according to Nancy Kite. (Special)

“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.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

7 replies on “Mercedes-Benz street renaming reduced to HQ site only”

  1. Thank you for a comprehensive article. Councilman DeJulio did not get an answer to his question. My bet is MBUSA will use Atlanta as an address. Such an arrogant company

  2. Heads up to the High School like Sandy Springs Council.

    Mercedes Benz Stadium is in Atlanta and the “Marketing Tool” for MBUSA, in Atlanta. Sandy Springs is the last line on the envelope of the HQ. That HQ address will be small and on the outside of promotional material being sent in a large envelope about the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

    The real story is how well MBUSA played the state of Georgia for tax exemptions in Atlanta along with the balance sheet right off for construction of stadium. Then they get a tax deal and again the right off on balance sheet of new HQ in SandySprings after abandoning their hometown in New Jersey for tax purposes.

    In the new American reality for Coporate entities v. Religious voters the companies win again. Religious voters elect Republicans who then offer special tax status to Corporations which then has a TSPLOST paid for by the voters to accommodate the business’s intrusion. The kicker is that nothing is put in writing that says if the Corporation doesn’t meet it’s obligations of jobs, better city, revenue, the tax deal goes away and taxes paid in full from day 1 nullifying the agreement. Don’t worry voter, deregulation means you can try to fight MBUSA or the like from a position of total servitude, like Sandy Springs Council.

    Congratulations on naming a specific piece of road something different. I can’t wait to see how the GPS devices sort this one out when someone punches in the address for MBUSA for a road that doesn’t actually exist. Brilliant!

  3. Paul needs to retire, Sandy Springs did not need MBUSA and the traffic it brings and the controversy. Sandy Springs has full employment ( given accurate economic data). MB makes mediocre cars for superficial people more interested in style than substance.Charitable company– yea right with the tax incentives to uproot it’s employees to move their families hundreds of miles.
    This is a reasonable compromise and I suspect that community voices forced the Mayors palsied hand.

    1. Exactly. SS is doing well – there is a $100 million in taxes collected annually and plenty of corporations/companies located here. We are spending $100 million for a new city hall. SS didn’t have to go out of its way for Mercedes. The building that is being built is overly intrusive and up against the street. Why wouldn’t they want a HQ building to be a bit more private and serene such as UPS’s location? When they move out of here to a new location in future, SS will be left with a hulking building and garage up against the street. It is not necessary to approve a building on every square inch of SS. The city should work on recreational sites for its citizens’ children such as a multi-purpose athletic building for volleyball and basketball and outsource running it to outside programs. And an indoor swim facility for all area swimmers and swim teams and maybe include an outdoor pool if it makes sense and outsource its operationst to Swim Academy or Swim Atlanta. Why must 90,000 citizens who live in a city with a $100 million budget/tax collections drive to other cities for their children’s recreational participation? Why must we go to Alpharetta for volleyball, east cobb for soccer, roswell or east cobb for swimming, etc? More athletic fields would be helpful to have for lacrosse, soccer. Sandy Springs is immediately surrounded by areas that would also want to use (AND PAY) for these facilities such as East Cobb (>50,000) and Dunwoody (45,000), and likely some in Roswell and Brookhaven. So Sandy Springs would find these programs filled with its citizens and surrounding areas so there would be adequate participation/enrollment to sustain these facilities. Look at Hammond Park – that little sliver of a gym has high enrollment, its artificial turf wedged in there is continually booked with surrounding teams, its tennis courts and basketball courts are always packed. We need more of these facilities and larger facilities to include volleyball (#2 sport of girls), basketball, softball fields, soccer fields. Multi-purpose gyms and multi-purpose fields can always be reconfigured in the future if enrollment patterns changed. Indoor swim facilities would also help elderly who cannot jog as well as helping for rehab patients. Stop wasting time contemplating taking a survey on this and just do it. Quickly. We are a city of 90,000 citizens and we lack all these basic recreational facilities. (the tennis facility at Abernathy is excellent by the way). The city can build/own and lease out facilities to organizations who can run programs. Traffic is bad and getting worse especially with all the new apt complexes being built everywhere which will further clog the roads and make it even harder to navigate the roads to bring our kids to athletic facilities far away.

      1. C,

        The citizens have already paid for all those things. It’s called a “Public School”.

        The problem is here in the “New Ole South” the gates are locked and the community of children and families sent elsewhere to find a facility. Imagine all those beautiful fields of green, courts that should be sprouting gold (local kids with scholarships) sitting there behind locked gates.

        1. So true. In conversations with peers, I talk about how the city should control the fields and courts at local schools since we paid for these from our taxes – they belong to us not the county. But it is backwards here in that we pay but the county controls access and the city rolls over and has no fight in them to reverse this trend. However, if schools facilities were fully used, I think we still need more due to demand. There are tons of girls that play volleyball and it has become second or first sport for girls. There are vb gyms around with 10 courts which are all filled every day for all ages from 12 to 18. The nearest such location is A5 in Alpharetta – all girls in Ss and E cobb, Dunw, and Roswell cant all play at A5 due to lack of space. Build a gym in ss. There are small swim facilities around like swim atlanta with 25 meter pools in nondescript bldgs in roswell, alpharetta, forsyth. And dynamo is in little ole chamblee. All these places are full of kids. Why cant ss bring them here? We have more money and kids than other towns. There is a ymca in alpharetta and little ile chamblee – why cant we have one in ss? The dynamo facility in chamblee is pretty inexpensive – lets get one here. We need these

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