March 9, 2006

Ithaca Board Discusses MLK Jr. Street Renaming

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Imagine Martin Luther King III driving up Martin Luther King Jr. Street in Ithaca on his way to give the commencement speech in May.

Although it is certain the former is coming to Ithaca, the fate of Martin Luther King Jr. Street remains unclear. Members of the City of Ithaca’s Board of Public Works discussed the possible name change in a meeting at City Hall yesterday.

“The need for the students and our group is a sense of inclusion, equality and fairness in terms of cultural landscape,” said Pete Meyers, member of the Martin Luther King Street renaming group. He spoke first in defense of the name change and explained how the idea to rename the street originated from Gino Bush, advisor to the Ithaca High School student group “The Circle of Recovery,” formed from a class he taught. One motivation of the proposed renaming, Meyers said, was to make the area more reflective of the different communities in Ithaca.

Arguing against the change, Mary Ellen Sprague, owner of BodyGear Fitness and Dance store on the Commons, said that more than 1,500 people have signed a petition against the change. She added that more than 70 businesses have signed a petition, along with 35 homeowners and employees who work on State Street.

Several businesses are planning to charge the city for the expenses caused by this potential name change, Sprague said.

The board did not vote on the change yesterday, instead choosing to continue discussion.

Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson mentioned that the members of the Common Council did not want to take on this issue, meaning that the board will be making the decision. She said that Ithaca College is planning to bring in an expert of Martin Luther King Street renaming and brought up the possibility of having another public forum to have more conversation between community members and the board.

Members of the board emphasized the need for further discussion before making a decision.

“With about 1,500 names on each side … this [issue] has raised a huge amount of passion on both sides,” said Raymond Schlather, a member of the Board of Public Works.

Jennifer Dotson, vice chair of the board, agreed that this is boiling down to one issue where people are taking sides.

“I think it behooves this community to do something,” Schlather said. “Everyone seems to recognize the distinction of Martin Luther King Jr. and the opportunity to reflect that in a tangible way.”

Victoria Romanoff of the Board of Public Works suggested that there be a set of guidelines for this issue in the case of future requests for street name changes.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun City Editor