Guest Commentary; Branding Our Town

32

The Town Council has embarked on a project of “branding” Fort Myers Beach and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea.

First, what does “branding” really mean? I always thought that was something you did with a red-hot iron on the rear ends of cattle.

There’s nothing wrong with defining who and what we are, although I’m not sure exactly who it is we need to convince of whatever the definition turns out to be. What are we trying to attract with this? More tourists? More businesses? More residents? More McMansions? More traffic? A General Motors auto assembly plant? – What? And who is it who thinks we need any of these?

Moreover, the reverse side of the business card of the Pompano Beach-based consultant the town hired says, “Reinventing Your City.” And that scares the hell out of me! Reinventing, or rebranding our town suggests taking what we are, calling it something else and trying to sell the label to a yet-unidentified customer as something different.

We bought our property here more than 25 years ago because it had a good deep-water harbor for the boat, fabulous beach, no snow, a laid-back atmosphere and a house we could afford. We figured out what the town is – a small, funky, tourist-oriented resort barrier island that’s inclusive and inviting. It is where the folks from inland communities come because they can get to the beach easily without being made to feel like they’re trespassing on somebody’s exclusive private property. It has an excellent selection of eating and drinking establishments ranging from a taco and hot dog stand to some high-end fine dining.

What the town is not is “snooty.” I have often suggested (only semi-facetiously) that we needed a town motto, and that it should be “Fort Myers Beach – We’re not Sanibel.” No doubt there are some residents here who wish they lived on Sanibel but can’t afford it. I also know a lot of folks here who can afford it, but have chosen not to live there for all the above-mentioned reasons. We are what we are and the greatest majority of residents live here because of that. And frankly, I don’t want anybody messing with it.

Clearly there is an identity issue around the name “Fort Myers Beach.” It is caused by the fact that the much larger postal zone of “Fort Myers Beach” existed long before the “Town of Fort Myers Beach” did. It also doesn’t help that if you say, “I’m from Fort Myers Beach” to someone from far away, they say, “Oh, yes, Fort Myers.”

A couple of suggestions: (Good luck!) For the postal zone issue, petition the federal government to change the name of the part of the zone that isn’t the Town to “South Fort Myers.” As for people confusing our Town with the City of Fort Myers, we should do what was done on the East Coast. There, the barrier island is named Palm Beach and the city on the mainland is West Palm Beach. We should get the City of Fort Myers to re-name itself “Northeast Fort Myers Beach.” That would surely clear everything up. Yeah, sure.

I am glad the idea of re-naming the Town never got off the ground. Change it to what? “Estero Island” would only add more confusion since the Village of Estero was incorporated. “Crescent Beach” has meaning only to the few people who lived here for sixty years or more. We would without doubt become “The Town Formerly Known as Fort Myers Beach.” That gambit didn’t work for the rock artist Prince and he abandoned it. It would take a whole generation to get past any change.

Finally, the overall question posed by the consultant seems to be, “What should we do to make Fort Myers Beach thrive?” That’s a good, legitimate question. Bill Clinton’s famous line, “It’s the economy, Stupid,” applies here. And here, the economy is the beach and the water. And until we get collectively smart enough to start electing people at all levels of government who are truly dedicated to fixing and preserving them, all the “branding” in the world won’t help.

 

Jay Light