FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) - Fort Lauderdale - home of the iconic1960s Spring Break film "Where the Boys Are" - boasts 23 miles of sugarsand beaches where bathing suit-clad tourists sip daiquiris under lazypalm trees. And then there's Broward County, known for hanging chads,election debacles and a namesake who championed draining the Everglades.
Sowhich one has the name recognition to bring in the most tourismdollars? County and city stakeholders met Thursday to discuss possiblychanging the name of Broward County, the second largest in the statewith 1.8 million residents, to Fort Lauderdale County.
"When itcomes to recognition, Fort Lauderdale has the juice literally andfiguratively," said Jordan Zimmerman, chairman of Fort Lauderdale-basedZimmerman Advertising. "Fort Lauderdale is seen as a major port, a majordestination, a world class recreation area, ideal climate, an ideallife, a great place to do business."
Tourism experts say a handfulof counties around the country are also pondering name changes in aneffort to market the most recognizable name in a region. About 15 yearsago, Florida's largest county changed its name from Dade to Miami-Dadeto capitalize on the name of its most famous city.
But criticscounter the name change is a waste of money that will cost big bucks tochange street signs, libraries, courthouses, ports and vehicles. Thecity of Fort Lauderdale is part of Broward County, which drew more than12 million tourists last year.
And what about the dozens of otherlesser-known cities that make up Broward that are also vying for tourismdollars, asked Hollywood City Commissioner Hon. Patty Asseff. Hollywoodalso has great beaches and has drawn stars - former Playboy model AnnaNicole Smith died there. (But the legal battle turned media circus overher estate was in Fort Lauderdale).
Broward County has beenproblematic for tourism officials from the start. Officials onceconsidered marketing an animated character named "Howard from Broward"to sell the sunny beaches, but he was eventually nixed. Rumor has itthat a former tourism chief once paraded around Vatican Square in analligator suit to entice international tourists.
Even Broward'smajor tourism agency is named the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention andVisitors Bureau. The agency plays up the perennially warm climate, witha live beach cam on their website (sunny.org) and a recent media blitzin New York City in which bikini-clad dancers took to an ice skatingrink.
Palm Beach and Dade counties gave up land in 1915 to formBroward County. It was slated to be called Everglades County but thatchanged after a popular early-20th century governor, Napoleon BonaparteBroward, died suddenly while running for the U.S. Senate. Browardchampioned draining the Everglades, which opened up much of today'surban Broward County for development. His great grandson is ChiefFinancial Officer Jeff Atwater.
"What we've seen in the U.S. andglobally is this move toward picking the most recognizable destinationwithin a region and picking that to market to people," said LoriPennington-Gray, director of the Tourism Crisis Management Institute atthe University of Florida.
"Tourists, especially internationally, they're not familiar with geography and county names don't resonate," she said.
Somesay tourists may well visit all three counties that comprise SouthFlorida, staying in a trendy Art Deco hotel on Miami's South Beach orcatching a polo match with the well-heeled in Palm Beach. They arguetourism officials should market the region as a whole.
"If we'reactually going to talk about the name of the county, why don't we talkabout how we work regionally as well," said Gregory Stuart, executivedirector of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization.
MarthaBennett, a lifelong Fort Lauderdale resident and owner of the hip,waterfront Blue Moon Fish Co. restaurant, thinks a name change wouldboost local businesses.
"People are coming to Fort Lauderdale. They're not booking a flight to Broward," said Bennett. "There's no Broward Beach."