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Frank Gray

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Maybe odd, memorable name for it is best bet

When the city first started taking suggestions to name its latest office complex on East Berry Street, I groaned inside.

Why do we even have to name it, I asked myself. It’s a government office building. You don’t go there unless you’re in trouble or owe the government money. It’s just City-County Building No. 2, as far as I’m concerned.

Then someone suggested the building be called the Harry Baals Government Center. I groaned again. People have been snickering at that name, and at Harry Baals Drive at Johnny Appleseed Park, for years.

Then the Harry Baals suggestion started getting 15 times as many votes as the other stale, overused names this town is so fond of – Anthony Wayne, Kekionga, Chief Little Turtle and so on.

At first I figured the city of Fort Wayne had finally found a way to come together, although as part of a big joke – and I imagine a lot of people are treating this as a big joke. Who in his right mind would actually name one of its main government office buildings Harry Baals?

Then a deputy mayor announced that the Harry Baals suggestion would be disregarded, even though it had garnered more votes than all the other suggestions combined. The city just won’t embarrass itself.

I didn’t think much about that, either. To me, no matter what it’s called, the building would always be City-County Building No. 2, an example of expanding government.

But the rest of the world did have an opinion. Before long, people all over the country and even around the world were talking about how Fort Wayne, Indiana, wouldn’t name it’s new government building after a four-term mayor because they didn’t like his name: Harry Baals. Never mind that he was the guy who brought the city a military airfield and elevated railroad tracks so trains wouldn’t cut the city in half.

Yes, the rest of the world laughed at the name, but they also looked upon Fort Wayne as a prudish, fun-is-not-allowed-here sort of place.

And I thought, you know, the world is right. We don’t have much personality, and this is proof.

We have the opportunity to give a government office building a legitimate name that is also one of the quirkiest, most attention-getting names you’re going to find anywhere in the world. And we’re walking away from it, despite the fact that an overwhelming percentage of people say that’s their choice.

There’s an old saying. Any publicity is good publicity. We’ve gotten one shot of attention by announcing we’re ashamed of former Mayor Harry Baals’ name and won’t use it on a building, and in some circles we’re being ridiculed.

Now we can get another shot of publicity by changing our minds and naming the building the Harry Baals Government Center.

Yes, the world will snicker, but it will bring Fort Wayne more attention than millions of dollars worth of dull, look-at-us advertising campaigns in trade journals.

People will think we’re joking when we tell them where documents are to be mailed, but it will burn an indelible mark in their minds.

Newspaper reporters and magazine writers will periodically come to write about the funky Midwestern city whose main office building is named Harry Baals, and we’ll get to snicker with them and at the same time tell them what we’re doing here.

How do you get the world to start talking about your city? It takes one of two things: A marketing genius or pure dumb luck.

An opportunity has dropped in our laps, and we’d be fools, not geniuses, to toss it aside.

Frank Gray has held positions as reporter and editor at The Journal Gazette since 1982 and has been writing a column on local topics since 1998. His column is published on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by e-mail at