Feb 3, 2022 - Business

Corporate naming raises concerns in D.C.

Illustration of the Washington monument ccovered in red sale stickers.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

It’s been a big week for name announcements in the District: The Washington Commanders (more on that later), Bezos Auditorium at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, and a new Bloomberg Trail.

And people have ... thoughts.

Why it matters: This billion-dollar question lingers … is D.C. for sale?

These new names come as D.C.’s economy diversifies, shifting from focusing largely on government to incorporating tech and other industries.

  • D.C. Policy Center executive director Yesim Sayin Taylor tells Axios that because the pandemic pushed workers away from downtown and out of D.C., new businesses are more important now than ever.
  • “Business attraction will matter greatly,” she says regarding revitalizing downtown.

Driving the news: Amazon is expanding its DMV footprint with its HQ2 in Arlington, TikTok signed a lease near Union Market, and Tysons is emerging as a tech hub.

Long-time D.C. resident and Penn Quarter Neighborhood Association executive director Jo-Ann Neuhaus says she thinks that naming the MLK auditorium after the library foundation’s biggest donor is simply a reflection of what organizations do to thank their financial supporters.

Yes, but: The overall response to the new names has been mixed at best.

  • The more common opinion is that the Bezos and Bloomberg names don’t align with the ideals and values held by local communities.
  • Critics of the library decision have specifically pointed out King’s criticism of the gap between the wealthy and those with lower incomes, and his support of the workers’ right to strike.

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations executive director Terry Lynch says it’s fine to recognize contributors, but naming individual rooms in the library takes away from honoring King.

“I can’t really...say that his achievements are significantly humanitarian in the same sort of vein that Dr. Martin Luther King did," Lynch says of Bezos. "That’s a hard standard to reach.”

Flashback: The news of Amazon’s local expansion back in 2018 came with the creation of National Landing, also described as “the D.C. area’s weirdest neighborhood.” A move that demonstrates how big corporations can reshape the DMV.

But it’s not all bad. Amazon has also donated millions to local nonprofits and so have other big companies, such as Chase Bank.


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