Let’s play a guessing game.
Name the part of town where the main shopping strip is Kendall Drive, the big hospital is West Kendall Baptist Hospital, and the place to buy a brand-new Japanese car is West Kendall Toyota.
We’re talking about West Kendall, right?
Not necessarily, says Miami-Dade County Commissioner Juan Zapata.
Zapata, who represents the area, is on a quest to rebrand West Kendall and the surrounding communities as “West End.”
And Zapata’s name push is about to get serious: On Tuesday, he’ll ask his fellow county commissioners to approve changing the name of the West Kendall Regional Library.
The new name: “West End Regional Library.” Replacing the two exterior signs will cost taxpayers $5,132.
Zapata plans to do the same renaming in the future at West Kendall District Park.
Asked in an email what is wrong with West Kendall’s existing name, Zapata wrote: “Nothing is wrong with West Kendall. It only represent a small area and because of the tremendous growth the area needs a name that encompasses everyone. People north of Sunset Drive and South of Miami Executive Airport don’t consider themselves West Kendall. A name that better reflects the area and is more inclusive were the drivers of the process.”
On a piece of paper, the words West Kendall can be changed to “West End” quite easily. Simply scratch out the K from Kendall. Then erase the “all.”
If West Kendall were a city, changing the name could get complicated. But since the sprawling suburb is an unincorporated section of Miami-Dade County, it only takes a single county commissioner to get the process going.
That’s true even though the “West End” area, as defined by a Florida International University study that Zapata requested, has a population of 213,839 — more than the cities of Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach.
That FIU study, which was privately funded, was in favor of creating a new “brand” for the area, though its authors wrote, “this process is best when community-driven.”
Zapata told the Herald that “this isn't about replacing any name” and the West Kendall and West End names can co-exist.
The commissioner says the community reaction to the new name, which he began promoting two years ago, has been “overwhelmingly” positive. Zapata almost always uses the #WestEnd hashtag when posting on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram. The commissioner said a handful of local businesses, including homebuilder Lennar, are now using the new name.
10 Number of times Zapata used the hashtag #WestEnd on Facebook this month
But the library renaming may serve as a wake-up call for any West Kendall residents and businesses who’ve been unaware of Zapata’s “West End” push. That’s likely a lot of people, even though Zapata has promoted “West End Family Movie Nights” in his district, and Miami-Dade County created a “West End Living” app for iPhone and Android smartphones, at a cost of $10,000.
The Android version has only “100+ downloads,” according to the Google Play app store. On Instagram, the West End’s account, called “westendliving,” has 389 followers.
Michael Rosenberg, a Zapata critic who is also president of the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations, said any new name for the community should come from the residents themselves, and not the whim of a single county commissioner.
“Our community should be part of a renaming, like a contest,” he said. “People that live here, what do they feel it is?”
The Herald asked Zapata about the contest idea. The commissioner declined an interview request, and would only respond to questions in writing.
“It would be cost prohibitive to have a community wide process and then only a small number of people would participate,” Zapata wrote. “This area lacks civic engagement in great part because its not a municipality and the County has little interest in helping the area grow as a community.”
Zapata wrote that the West End name was created by former Aventura City Commissioner Zev Auerbach. Zapata called Auerbach a “marketing genius.”
Changing the name, what is that going to do? Is that going to change the way people view Kendall? Is that going to change the traffic? Is that going to change anything? It’s just a name.
Adriana Quintana, West Kendall resident
“We did ask thru multiple means three years ago for suggestions and ideas on a name,” Zapata wrote. “We were always open to better ideas but this name had the best feedback. Simple, elegant and inclusive.”
Asked for examples of the “multiple means” that were used to get public input three years ago, Zapata said there were town hall meetings and discussions with homeowners, and names were solicited “numerous times” in the commissioner’s newsletter.
“We got very little engagement,” he wrote.
Whether its called West Kendall or West End, many residents in the area identify their location by the particular neighborhood or subdivision they live in. For two decades, Ory Dawes was president of the homeowners association in the Country Walk neighborhood.
Dawes, who is friends with Commissioner Zapata, said she supports his “West End” campaign. She said the goal is to market the area as its own unique destination.
“Right now, if you want to go to a great restaurant or see a theater, you have to go downtown,” Dawes said. “He’s thinking, why do you have to do that? We could have that here.”
But Miami historian Arva Moore Parks harshly criticized any move away from the decades-old West Kendall name, which is how the area has always been known.
“If I lived in Kendall or West Kendall, that’s like changing the name of Miami,” she said. “I really wouldn’t want it changed. It’s my place, it’s where I live.”
“There are people who make their money trying to talk you into rebranding,” Parks said. “And a lot of them are marketing people, and people who sell signs.”
The roots of the Kendall name go back to 1883, when the state of Florida sold four million acres (about half of the land between North Kendall Drive and Southwest 104th Street) to a group of Englishmen who had formed the Florida Land and Mortgage Company. A London merchant named Henry John Broughton Kendall was one of the company’s trustees — and his name lives on in today’s bustling suburbs of Kendall and West Kendall.
Both suburbs attracted young families with newer-construction homes, good schools and a relaxed atmosphere. The downside has been traffic: FIU’s West End study found that 78 percent of residents leave the area to get to work, and that the current level of traffic congestion is “highly unsustainable.”
At the West Kendall Regional Library, which may soon become “West End,” Adriana Quintana spent Thursday afternoon at a table helping her 7-year-old daughter with homework. She had no idea a new name might be coming. When told by a Herald reporter, she wasn’t particularly happy about it.
“Changing the name, what is that going to do?” she asked. “Is that going to change the way people view Kendall? Is that going to change the traffic? Is that going to change anything? It’s just a name.”
Her daughter Brianna, however, was fully on board with “West End.”
“I think it’s cool,” she said.