Ithacans from various facets of the community debated over the possible renaming of State Street yesterday in City Hall. The City of Ithaca’s Board of Public Works held the public hearing to help finalize whether or not to rename the street Martin Luther King Jr. Street. Because of the large turnout of speakers, the Board was not able to make a final decision and postponed the discussion of the issue to next Wednesday.
State Street is one of Ithaca’s most travelled streets and is the location of over 100 businesses. The Board proposes a plan for a three-year long change, which includes adding Historic State Street to the new signs, in order to create a proper transition of addresses. Most small business owners still oppose the change because it will have many financial repercussions due to the address change.
During the public hearing, Max Lawrence, Ithaca College student, acknowledged the challenge the change will have on businesses, but said, “This is a time when Ithacans can show what they are really about.”
He said that the social impact of renaming the street to Martin Luther King Jr. St. is much more important than the economic setback it will have on the businesses.
A representative for Maxi’s Supper Club helped voice the opposing argument. He said that his business supports the idea of creating a memorial for Dr. King in Ithaca but believes renaming State Street is not the best option and that doing so would set back seven-and-a-half years of marketing efforts.
The renaming of the street to Martin Luther King Jr. Street was proposed in 2004 by the Circle of Recovery, a group of students from Ithaca High School that discussed the issues of race, class and other oppressions. The idea was taken under consideration by the city after Ithaca residents presented a petition with over 1,400 signatures.
According to several Ithacans, including twelve-year resident Stuart Lewis, the issue of the renaming of State Street is complicated with the issue of racism.
“It has become a racial issue. People are afraid to stand and talk about it,” Lewis said.
He said he believes in retaining the name of the street for historical purposes but that opposition to renaming the street to Martin Luther King Jr. Street can present racial undertones without the intent.
Pete Meyers, a community activist, said that renaming the street after Dr. King would help bring more representation for people of color in Ithaca.
Looking around the Common Council chambers, he said, “There are a number of portraits around the room. There are two common denominators [between the portraits]. They were all once mayor of Ithaca, and they are all white males.”
Gino Bush, another community activist, said, “Let’s stop sugarcoating this stuff. This is about racism.”
Bush said that the initial purpose of renaming the street was to help counter racism in Ithaca.
“This town isn’t known as being too welcoming for people of color,” he said.
After several residents voiced their opinions on the matter, the last speaker, Ithacan Pelin Ainer, said, “People aren’t really talking to each other.”
She pointed out the lack of communication between the opposing parties and said that the issue of racism is pushing others away. She proposed that the opposing groups instead compromise a deal, so that the final decision will not be so severe for those who do not get their way.