NORTH WILDWOOD — Changing the city’s name to Anglesea would mean more than paying to update the name on firetrucks and police badges.
It would mean spending money to rebrand the town in the vital tourism industry, said Stockton University tourism and hospitality professor Brian Tyrrell.
“The brand really needs to reflect who they are,” Tyrrell said, noting the Wildwood brand already has name recognition. “They’ll have to spend money on that effort.”
A nonbinding referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot will ask residents whether the city should change its name.
Supporters say they want to honor the city’s history — it was called the Borough of Anglesea from 1885 until 1906. Opponents say the name change will harm businesses.
New Jersey towns and institutions have changed names before, including Ocean County’s Dover Township, which decided to officially change its name to Toms River Township 10 years ago.
“I have no regrets about the transformation,” said Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy, who was the township’s police chief at the time and a proponent of the change. “There are going to be people on both sides.”
“Basically, there are a lot of people who wanted to retain the history,” Mastronardy said.
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Cherry Hill was known as Delaware Township until it changed its name in the 1960s. Stockton University has gone through a number of name changes: First it was called Stockton State College, then it became The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the 1990s, and it changed its name yet again last year to reflect its accreditation as a university.
Nine years ago, Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital in Middle Township transformed into Cape Regional Medical Center.
“The name change has been very successful,” said Tom Piratzky, vice president of marketing and public relations at the hospital. “It is rare to hear the previous name used.”
“In a couple of years, it’s not even an issue anymore,” Mastronardy said of the Toms River name change. “Ten years later, it’s under the sun.”
In North Wildwood, the debate over the name change is just heating up. Lawn signs supporting the move have popped up, featuring the slogan “Rediscover Anglesea.” But not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon.
A day in the water quickly turned sour for two men Sunday afternoon in Wildwood.
James DiPetrillo, owner of Coliseum Market at 1604 Boardwalk, voiced his opposition at the Aug. 16 City Council meeting and even threatened to sue the city over the damage it would do to his T-shirt business. He said he’s collected 541 signatures on a petition supporting the current name, according to meeting minutes.
“We need to stop this now,” said DiPetrillo. “The decision should not be made in the fall when everyone has gone home.”
North Wildwood’s population is 4,041, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, but it balloons during the summer.
Another T-shirt dealer, Jack McCartney, owner of the North Wildwood Shirt Shop, said he supports the move because it would help his business. He said it’s a “win-win.”
“I think it’s going to bring a fresh look and perspective to North Wildwood,” McCartney said.
Not much would change immediately for the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement Development Authority, the agency responsible for promoting the entire island, said John Siciliano, the organization’s executive director and chief financial officer.
“It doesn’t change our mission,” he said of the name-change proposal. “We’ll deal with that when and if we have to.”
Changing the North Wildwood name on city assets would cost between $20,000 and $30,000, according to a study commissioned by the municipality.
Mayor Patrick Rosenello said there will be “no immediate reaction, legal or otherwise” after the vote, since it’s nonbinding.
He said if the measure is defeated, he expects the city to move on. But if it gets majority support, the stage is set for a binding referendum.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity to weigh these questions,” Rosenello said. “It’s already done a good job of allowing people to focus on North Wildwood.”
The mayor wouldn’t give his personal thoughts on the matter, saying he would let the residents decide.
“I’ve probably heard more about this issue than any other in my 12 years in office,” Rosenello said.