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. Its a government office building. You dont go there unless youre in trouble or owe the government money. Its just City-County Building No. 2, as far as Im 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 wont embarrass itself.
I didnt think much about that, either. To me, no matter what its 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, wouldnt name its new government building after a four-term mayor because they didnt 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 wouldnt 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 dont 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 youre going to find anywhere in the world. And were walking away from it, despite the fact that an overwhelming percentage of people say thats their choice.
Theres an old saying. Any publicity is good publicity. Weve gotten one shot of attention by announcing were ashamed of former Mayor Harry Baals name and wont use it on a building, and in some circles were 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 were 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 well get to snicker with them and at the same time tell them what were 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 wed be fools, not geniuses, to toss it aside.