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Plantation says no to name dropping

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

Democracy has triumphed, they are not going to rename it the “The Gated Community Formerly Known As the Plantation.”

In fact, no has even suggested that particular phrasing, you would have to be Prince to want it worded that way.

On the contrary, the largely electronic, some by mail, vote that was concluded and announced Saturday, was not a formal renaming of the affluent community on the westernmost third of St. George Island, a vote conducted by the St. George Island Plantation Homeowners Association.

No alternative was proposed, only to drop the word and have a committee come up with proposed successors.

Only 83 property owners out of the close to 900 addresses that comprise the pricey community liked the idea of dropping the term. The other 217 who voted all said no, they liked the idea of retaining the name it has had since developers John Stocks and Gene Brown came up with St. George’s Plantation, a curious blend of piety and Southern provincialism, about 50 years ago.

Helene Antel, a supporter of dropping the name, declined comment in her role as president of the Plantation property owners association.

A transplant from New York, her views on the left side of the political ledger, Antel had more than a few fellow travelers, but fewer that those who favor a right turn, especially on red, away from seemingly politically correct actions.

Prominent as an advocate for dropping the name was Buena Brown, a marketing mind in an earlier career, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and a Republican.

Brown argued, and the online argument got at times heated, that making the change made sense, especially in light of such name changes rippling across communities where that term stems from the original land use, and the commercial enterprise happening there, which in other places, was for the first quarter-millennium of American history, where slavery flourished.

Not so, it is agreed by historians, was that the case where the Plantation sits, on land that once was used for turpentining, or left alone as a mysterious barrier island, but never an organized mercantile enterprise with large numbers of needed hands, of any color.

The name has its roots nowhere but in a savvy marketing choice, back in the early ‘80s where lots were “starting under $80,000 with affordable terms,” according to a 15-minute marketing video from that time period, narrated by the pilot of an airplane flying into the development’s small airfield to the sort of soundtrack you might find in “Love Boat” or “Magnum P.I.,” the video’s alluring spiel appealing to retirees who wanted a spacious, rural, resort-like alternative to the crowded high-rises of the big coastal Florida cities.

“There is another Florida where the civilized amenities of life are blended with the carefully preserved natural setting,” sounds the off-screen narrator, as an aerial shot focuses on the largely undeveloped expanse of the land.

“It’s the connotations, what people perceive it to be,” said Brown. “Names have a way of morphing.”

Opposition to the name change, excluding those who used it as weapon in their own political pointmaking adventure, came down in the last few months to whether it was needed at all, and if so, what the cost would be.

Agreement appeared to be that minor changes might run in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $50,000, the cost of changing signs, and altering the website and promotional material. Others said it could run into a couple hundred thousand dollars, including professional fees, money that could be much better spent on infrastructure improvements, like stormwater drainage.

“The website is the only exterior form of marketing. The goal was to change as little as possible,” Brown said, stressing that real estate agents would be the primary ones handling the transition.

Underscoring the arguments were no strong statements about the positive or negative effect on sales and property values the name change would have, much more so about the brand image the community wanted to present to their target audience.

“To look at the facts, there’s a lot of negative thoughts (associated with plantation),” Brown said. “A lot of people don’t want any change. They built a home here three years ago, and they say ‘Don’t do any change.’ They did.”

One resident who goes back to the earliest days of the development, Larry Hale, was opposed to the move, because he saw it more as an apology when an affirmation is what is needed.

“This is picking a scab off a sore,” he said. “We need to celebrate the progress we’ve made, the people who paid a political price. It wasn’t just Black people fighting for their rights.”

A Vietnam vet, originally from Tallahassee, with an admired legacy of civic contributions to the enhancement of the island and the county community at large, Hale is no liberal, not by a long shot, a principled conservative with a personal understanding of what the South has been through in his lifetime.

“I am not one who wants to wave a Confederate flag in the black person’s face,” he said. “We have come so far and it’s a shame that the young people aren’t taught that.”

To illustrate the point, he mentions a fellow Vietnam veteran who he worked alongside at his father’s businesses. A man who needed Hale’s father’s word to get a driver’s license in Tallahassee.

“To be humiliated to have to ask a white man to sponsor you for a drivers license,” he said.

Another longtime resident, retired commercial pilot Isaac Lang, is eager to move on, as are the sizeable majority that said no to dropping the word from the name.

That probably won’t be too difficult, it was far from a close vote. Perhaps harder will be mending fences.

“Nobody’s talking to me,” said Brown.

St George Plantation sign