To city officials and proud residents, Apache Junction is a place that has won several national and state awards for city government over the past year.
To some outsiders, it’s "Apache Junk-tion" or "Apache Junkyard" or even "Malfunction Junction," a land of renegade residents and manufactured homes.
The city is working to combat that image — formed following an envisioned development boom that never happened in the 1960s — but some say it’s being perpetuated by those who are supposed to be ambassadors to future residents and businesses: Real estate agents.
Resident Louis Babin said he’s heard real estate agents badmouth his city.
"The real estate agent that was showing me my house here asked me if I had any problem moving to Apache Junction," he said. "She said it in such a way that she had a negative tone."
At a recent Apache Junction Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Babin said another real estate agent made disparaging remarks and said there was a stigma accompanying the city’s name.
"I think that’s unethical and very unprofessional for a real estate agent to say something negative about a city," Babin said.
Discussion of the city’s image was heated earlier this year when the chamber of commerce asked the city to hire consultants to study perceptions of Apache Junction.
After a resident outcry in May, the City Council decided against that and also put talk of a name change on hold indefinitely.
Apache Junction officials say they’re now focusing on improving business outreach, including work with real estate agents.
The city and chamber soon will invite more than 100 real estate agents to an event where city officials will demonstrate a new infill incentive plan, changes in the development process and updates on state land issues.
Roy Hunt, the city’s business advocate, said the event, on Nov. 17, will help the city gain access to real estate agents: "The best connection to future commercial interests."
Hunt said city officials have decided to stop fighting perceptions for now and use opportunities such as the event to showcase improvements.
"We’re not working to determine which one they have or to try and change that image," Hunt said. "We’re going to feature information we think is significant to their clients."
Jay Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center at Arizona State University East, said Apache Junction is struggling with an image formed long ago when the speed of freeway construction didn’t match landowners’ visions of development.
"Apache Junction, back in the 1960s, was going to be the next hot area of development," he said. "But then it wasn’t."
With commercial options limited, many landowners turned to mobile home parks to fill the space.
"The unfortunate aspect is when you say Apache Junction, you think trailer parks and a sort of rough-scale city," he said.
Butler offered some comfort, though, saying potential developers care more about being able to navigate city rules than an image.
"Usually developers, if they feel there’s a market there, don’t really care as long as they can get things done," he said.