Oregon town wants to distance itself from other ‘unsavory’ Detroit

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George Hunter and RoNeisha Mullen, DETROIT NEWS STAFF WRITERS

Some folks out West don't think Detroit sounds like a nice place to visit. They'd rather stand up and tell 'em they're from Detroit Lake.

Voters in the tourist town of Detroit, Ore., will decide Tuesday whether to change its name. The village of about 300 residents, nestled in the Cascades foothills, is known for its boating and skiing — not crime, failing schools or a shaky auto industry.

Builder Doug DeGeorge, who was instrumental in putting the proposal on the ballot, said the name "Detroit" carries an unsavory image.

"I bought the old Detroit Lake Motel, and we turned it into a beautiful lodge," DeGeorge said. "When people asked me what project I was working on, I'd tell them I was building a lodge in Detroit. When I said, 'Detroit,' everyone would scrunch up their noses and furrow their brows. They'd say, 'My God, what are you doing building a lodge there?'"

Map of Detroit, Oregon
Map of Detroit, Oregon

The business of changing the name of a city to sever perceived links to Detroit isn't new. East Detroit voters in 1992 changed their city's name to Eastpointe.

"Detroit has been portrayed in such a bad light — people think it's nothing but guns, murder and crime," said Franklin Dohanyos, owner of Franklin Publicity Inc., a marketing firm in Royal Oak.

"The country has a very poor image of Detroit, and if you want to get away from that, it makes sense to look into changing the name."

Alabama, Maine and Texas all have towns named Detroit, and there's a Detroit Lakes in Minnesota.

DeGeorge said he expects the measure to pass.

"I mean, no offense to the people of Detroit (Michigan)," he said. "It's a big city, and it's been around forever. We're just a beautiful city in the heart of the mountains, so by adding the name 'Lake' to it, you let people know what it's all about."

Detroit City Councilman Gary Brown said Oregonians are making a big mistake.

"Everybody has the right to change their name," Brown said. "But … we're going to be the great Detroit that we once were. In the future, they'll be sorry they did that."