- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Not everyone likes the name “Commerce City,” but it could be worse. It could be “Stinky Town.”

That was what listeners of radio station KOA-AM recently voted to dub this industrial-cum-residential hub, which is why Commerce City denizen Jim Benson is relieved that most of them won’t be voting in today’s election.

Mr. Benson is the driving force behind a ballot measure that would drop the name “Commerce City” in favor of something else, preferably something that doesn’t conjure up images of industrial parks, refineries and noxious odors.

If the measure passes, a 16-member committee would draw up three new names and put them before the voters in November.

“The name no longer fits. It may have fit 35 years ago, but not now,” said Mr. Benson, a lawyer and chairman of the Committee to Change the City. “Somebody back then said, ‘This is a place for industry. This isn’t a place where you want to move to raise a family.’ Well, that’s changed.”

Commerce City is best known for its three Suncor Energy refineries, but it also is undergoing a residential boom to the north, where swanky developments such as Reunion, Henderson and Frontera have cropped up in the past five years.

Mr. Benson, who lives in Reunion, fears the name is dragging down property values and scaring away business. He pointed to rash of commercial development that leapfrogged Commerce City in favor of municipalities with more acceptable names, like Brighton. Even Suncor, he noted, refers to its operation here as its “Denver plant.”

Be that as it may, his campaign has ignited a wall of opposition from old-timers, who insist the city is doing just fine without some uppity newcomers trying to paper over the community’s heritage.

“We ought to be proud of what we are. The name Commerce City came about because of all the business we have, which is what has kept our taxes low for all these years,” said Mayor Sean Ford, who grew up here and leaves office this month after serving as mayor for eight years.

“We are what we are, and the name won’t change anything,” he said. “A rose is a rose by any other name; and a skunk is a skunk by any other name.”

The analogies don’t get any better. Mr. Ford concedes he also has compared the city to the “ugly girlfriend” who doesn’t get any prettier after she changes her name, although he denies reports that he also has likened the community to a pig wearing a dress.

“My point is that you’re just trying to cover something up,” he said.

He has plenty of company. Three of the four mayoral candidates in the election today — Mr. Ford is term-limited — oppose the name-change measure, citing factors such as the cost of changing stationery and signs, along with the principle of the matter.

The Commerce City Business and Professional Association has come out against the measure, said President Rhonda Hathaway, who argued that the name is “steeped in tradition.”

“Now that people are moving here to these new homes, they want to change things,” said Mrs. Hathaway, who grew up here. “We are known for our refineries. We deserve to be considered a nice place to live, no matter what our name is.”

Such arguments exasperate Mr. Benson. “People who are against it don’t seem to be able to come up with anything beyond, ‘I’ve lived here all my life, I went to high school here, and this is our name,’ ” he said.

He pointed out that the moniker isn’t as historic as its proponents like to think. The community became Commerce City when it incorporated in 1970, but before that it went by several names, including Derby, Adams City and Dupont.

Its “Stinky Town” image was largely a result of the hog farms and cattle feed lots that used to populate the area. With those gone, the community deserves a new image, residents say, whether or not that means a new name.

“We get a bad rap sometimes,” Mrs. Hathaway said, “but there are a lot of good things going on here.”

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