City officials consider a change of name for Blaine

Published on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 by By Brandy Kiger Shreve

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Welcome to Blaine Harbor.

That’s what signs around the city could be displaying in a few months if Blaine City Council approves a November ballot resolution to ask Blaine residents whether they support a name change for the city.

On March 25, Blaine resident Trevor Hoskins asked council to consider changing the city’s name to Blaine Harbor. “It’s good to see a return of optimism in Blaine, with the purchase of the inn and the considerable investment being made there,” he said.

“However, we do not seem to be getting the kind of investment Blaine really needs, particularly in the downtown area. People appear to drive right by Blaine. Why don’t we call ourselves Blaine Harbor? It’s much more descriptive of what’s here, and might draw more interest to the city.”

Blaine City Council member Clark Cotner was quick to jump on board, as was councilmember Bonnie Onyon.

“I fully support it,” Cotner said. “I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t.”
Onyon suggested Cotner and the economic development committee should explore the issue and spearhead the initiative if he thought it was in the city’s best interest.

Cotner, who said he has used Blaine Harbor as his return mail address for several years, was more than happy to oblige.

“This is marketing, plain and simple,” Cotner said during a meeting of the city’s economic development committee on April 4. “If you want people to come here, you have to invite them to come. Changing the name to Blaine Harbor is an invitation. It paints a picture in their minds of a waterfront community.”

This is not the first time the suggestion has been made to change the city’s name. A measure to rename the city to Blaine Harbor was narrowly defeated in 1990 by a mere 92 votes.

“No one sat down and talked about why we wanted to change then. They always just said it would cost the city too much money,” Cotner said. “But it won’t. The offices all print their own stationary. It’s just a matter of a logo change, which Debbie Harger said would cost around $500.”

Community planning director Michael Jones said the name change could actually save the city money in the long run. “It would keep us from spending hundreds of staff hours each year on the phone taking calls intended for Blaine, Minnesota,” he said. “Sometimes it takes quite a while to determine that they are actually calling about a different city.”

U.S. Geological Survey official Lou Yost said that although city name changes don’t happen often, they aren’t unheard of. While the city could just decide to informally change their name by updating their letterhead and postal address, there are benefits to going the more formal route and letting its citizens decide.

Yost said that an informal switch wouldn’t be enough for the map systems to recognize that a change had been made. “It might catch up,” he said. “But it could be 20 years until it does.”

Not having it on the maps as Blaine Harbor could defeat the purpose of changing it in the first place, which is to make the city attractive to people and investors from other parts of the country.

To make the new name official and show up on maps, city council would need to approve a revision to the city’s articles of incorporation, which then would be submitted to both the county and state for their approval as well. “If it gets approved then it would go to the census bureau and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names which would make that change,” Yost said. “Once the change is made officially, it will be changed on the federal database, but it would take until the next revision cycle to show up on maps. Sign changes are made on the state and county levels.”

The city of Blaine was first settled in the mid-19th century by pioneers who established the town as a seaport for the logging and fishing industries. Blaine was officially incorporated on May 20, 1890, and was named after James G. Blaine, who was a U.S. senator from Maine, a U.S. secretary of state and unsuccessful Republican candidate for President in 1884.

“Blaine was the only vice president who was ever impeached,” Cotner said. (Editor’s note: James G. Blaine was never vice president, nor impeached. He was however involved in a scandal while serving as secretary of state.)

“It’s not quite the greatest claim to fame. I think Jim Jorgensen said it best the other day when he said, ‘Have you ever been to Oak, Good or Friday? Those are all harbors.’ Well, this is a harbor. I’ll personally pay to change all the signs to make it happen.”

City manager Dave Wilbrecht noted that creating a clear picture of what the city has to offer through the name change could be the shot in the arm that Blaine needs. “We’ve been looking at the reasons Blaine hasn’t taken off and a lot of it is because we haven’t branded ourselves or marketed ourselves effectively,” he said. “Blaine Harbor is a branding thing and for branding to work we need to have everything branded all the same. It’s critical. Every successful business is branded well. But we still have some research to do.”

The economic development committee will continue the discussion at their next
meeting.