FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Fort Lauderdale — home of the iconic 1960s Spring Break film "Where the Boys Are" — boasts 23 miles of sugar sand beaches where bathing suit-clad tourists sip daiquiris under lazy palm trees. And then there's Broward County, known for hanging chads, election debacles and a namesake who championed draining the Everglades.
So which one has the name recognition to bring in the most tourism dollars? County and city stakeholders met Thursday to discuss possibly changing the name of Broward County, the second largest in the state with 1.8 million residents, to Fort Lauderdale County.
"When it comes to recognition, Fort Lauderdale has the juice literally and figuratively," said Jordan Zimmerman, chairman of Fort Lauderdale-based Zimmerman Advertising. "Fort Lauderdale is seen as a major port, a major destination, a world class recreation area, ideal climate, an ideal life, a great place to do business."
Tourism experts say a handful of counties around the country are also pondering name changes in an effort to market the most recognizable name in a region. About 15 years ago, Florida's largest county changed its name from Dade to Miami-Dade to capitalize on the name of its most famous city.
But critics counter the name change is a waste of money that will cost big bucks to change street signs, libraries, courthouses, ports and vehicles. The city of Fort Lauderdale is part of Broward County, which drew more than 12 million tourists last year.
And what about the dozens of other lesser-known cities that make up Broward that are also vying for tourism dollars, asked Hollywood City Commissioner Hon. Patty Asseff. Hollywood also has great beaches and has drawn stars — former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith died there. (But the legal battle turned media circus over her body was in Fort Lauderdale).
Broward County has been problematic for tourism officials from the start. Officials once considered marketing an animated character named "Howard from Broward" to sell the sunny beaches, but he was eventually nixed. Rumor has it that a former tourism chief once paraded around Vatican Square in an alligator suit to entice international tourists.
Even Broward's major tourism agency is named the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau. The agency plays up the perennially warm climate, with a live beach cam on their website (sunny.org) and a recent media blitz in New York City in which bikini-clad dancers took to an ice skating rink.
Palm Beach and Dade counties gave up land in 1915 to form Broward County. It was slated to be called Everglades County but that changed after a popular early-20th century governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, died suddenly while running for the U.S. Senate. Broward championed draining the Everglades, which opened up much of today's urban Broward County for development. His great grandson is Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
"What we've seen in the U.S. and globally is this move toward picking the most recognizable destination within a region and picking that to market to people," said Lori Pennington-Gray, director of the Tourism Crisis Management Institute at the University of Florida.
"Tourists, especially internationally, they're not familiar with geography and county names don't resonate," she said.
Some say tourists may well visit all three counties that comprise South Florida, staying in a trendy Art Deco hotel on Miami's South Beach or catching a polo match with the well-heeled in Palm Beach. They argue tourism officials should market the region as a whole.
"If we're actually going to talk about the name of the county, why don't we talk about how we work regionally as well," said Gregory Stuart, executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Martha Bennett, a lifelong Fort Lauderdale resident and owner of the hip, waterfront Blue Moon Fish Co. restaurant, thinks a name change would boost local businesses.
"People are coming to Fort Lauderdale. They're not booking a flight to Broward," said Bennett. "There's no Broward Beach."