University Place residents can play a round of 18 holes at Chambers Bay. They can walk their dogs and ride their bikes there. In 2015, they can watch the U.S. Open golf tournament there.
But do they want to live there?
Mayor Ken Grassi confirmed to The News Tribune this week that some individuals are considering whether to propose changing University Place’s name after a council member put forward the idea this year.
One notion is to give the name Chambers Bay to the suburban community of 31,000.
Council members said Councilman Chris Nye brought up the idea during a brainstorming session to drum up business activity in UP. Nye said in an interview that he believes a name change could have merit as city leaders chart the community’s path for the coming decades.
After all, the city does not have a university. But it does have a body of water and a renowned Scottish Links golf course named Chambers Bay, in honor of settler Thomas Chambers.
University Place was incorporated as a city in 1995, but the community got its name long before that from a plan abandoned in the late 1800s to build the educational institution that would become the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
“It’s a neat story that we don’t have (a university),” Nye said, “but I don’t know if a neat story creates commerce.”
Nye said he didn’t bring up a specific name, though other council members recalled he’s the one who suggested Chambers Bay.
“I think that would be a logical step to look at that,” he told The News Tribune, “but I’m not locked into any name by any means.”
Interviews with several UP residents at Chambers Bay Golf Course and elsewhere around the city on Friday found little support for the idea.
“I wouldn’t change it. ... They’re going to have the U.S. Open here, but that’s not something you change a name for,” Ray Stervick said in front of the Trader Joe’s store.
Added Robert Floyd at the nearby Subway sandwich shop: “I don’t think it will fly, but who knows? The people who run this town are pretty out there.”
Grassi, the mayor, said he warmed up to Nye’s idea after he gave it time to soak in, and began asking people their opinion.
“It’s been pretty amazing,” Grassi said. “Even people who at first say, ‘Are you crazy?’ or don’t like it, within 5 or 10 minutes of thinking about the possibility, they came around.”
Grassi acknowledged some people continued to dislike the suggestion.
The mayor finds merit in the idea because he believes University Place has an identity problem. He said outsiders often confuse it with the University District in Seattle or with that city’s upscale shopping center, University Village.
Some individuals showed enough interest that they’re considering making a presentation to the City Council, Grassi said, adding that he doesn’t know when that might happen. He declined to name the individuals because he doesn’t want to obligate them to the proposal.
“The council is not going to initiate it,” he said. “We’re willing to listen if the community wants to take it on.”
University Place isn’t the first area city to toy with a name change. Ten years ago, Federal Way leaders briefly discussed it with a private consultant they hired to help give the city a new “brand”’ image.
And UP once considered it, as well. City Councilwoman Caroline Belleci said the people who spearheaded the city’s incorporation in the ‘90s discussed changing the name at the time but wanted to stay true to the community’s roots.
“I’d hate to do away with 100-plus years of history,” she said.
Belleci also cited concerns about the cost to the city to hold one or more elections and to businesses and residents who would have to change their addresses.
Councilman Eric Choiniere is adamantly opposed because of the cost and public uproar he’s sure would arise. He noted other communities have been embroiled in long debates over proposals to change the name of a single street.
“People may float the idea,” Choiniere told a reporter, “but it has as much traction as a bald tire on a snowdrift because it just ain’t going to happen.”
COUNTY WILL KEEP ITS DISTANCE
Pierce County owns Chambers Bay Golf Course and, like UP, has a stake in promoting it. County Executive Pat McCarthy and her deputy, Kevin Phelps, are aware the idea of a name change for the host city is under discussion.
But county spokesman Hunter George said the county isn’t going to encourage or discourage it.
“We’re interested in watching any kind of community discussion that comes from it,” he said.
Randy Walden, president of the University Place-Fircrest division of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, first heard of the idea from a News Tribune reporter. He worries about the cost to local businesses. And he called the move unnecessary because the city will reap tax revenue from the U.S. Open regardless of whether it tries to more closely align itself to the golf course.
“They don’t have to lift a finger,” he said.
Also cool to the idea was University Place School Superintendent Patti Banks, who heard of it for the first time Friday from a reporter.
“There would be something of an identity crisis for all concerned,” said Banks, public schools chief in UP for a dozen years.
Her district has one school that shares a name with the city (University Place Primary) and one that shares a name with the golf course (Chambers Primary). But Banks said the city and University Place School District are inextricably bound and that the community revolves around its schools.
Renaming the city Chambers Bay, she said, “would seem to suggest the city has moved its center.”
Staff writers Zach Smith and Matt Misterek contributed to this report.