FORT WAYNE – A nephew of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. will help dedicate the spectacular new gateway to downtown.
During a press tour of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge over the St. Marys River Friday, Mayor Tom Henry announced that Derek King Sr. will join the dedication festivities, which will include a Unity Walk across the structure and the Voices of Unity choir. Derek King is the son of the Rev. A.D. King, Martin Luther King’s only brother.
The 9 p.m. dedication comes on the eve of the 49th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s visit to Fort Wayne on June 5, 1963, when he spoke before a crowd of 2,000 at the Scottish Rite Auditorium. Henry said Friday the previous bridge was also named for King but that no one knew it. Because the new structure is such a powerful symbol of unity and community, making the memorials to King much more prominent made sense, he said.
It’s a tremendous gateway into downtown, Henry said. We hoped it would be spectacular and it truly is.
Because Clinton Street is also U.S. 27, it is a state highway and the bridge replacement was a state project. But when state officials announced their plans, city officials asked them to enhance the bridge with decorative features and to make it more pedestrian-friendly. That raised the price of the work substantially, but the $8.8 million price tag was shared by the state, the federal government and the city, with the city contributing $2 million toward the cost.
Henry said the bridge was well worth the extra cost, even in an era when all government spending is frowned upon and many demand that government projects be bare-bones and strictly utilitarian.
Our city deserves to have things done first class, because that’s the kind of people we are – first class, Henry said. This says something about who we are, and to do just a stripped-down project would really do an injustice to later generations.
He noted that residents have repeatedly said they want a more vibrant downtown, and the bridge is a part of that, the mayor said.
Not only is this spectacular bridge an enduring remembrance and fitting tribute to Dr. King, it is also an inspiring gateway into the vibrant heart of our city, Henry said. It offers a magnificent view of downtown Fort Wayne, and of greater importance, sends the message that we are a community ready to compete and built for success.
Some would like to do even more to tie King to the community: A citizens committee wants to rename Clinton Street Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The group, featuring Wayne Township Trustee Rick Stevenson and retired Lincoln National CEO Ian Rolland, will conduct a news conference Tuesday to talk about its effort.
In the meantime, city officials are preparing for Monday night’s dedication, which will show off the bridge’s lighting for the first time. The bridge is covered with 704 light fixtures, most of which are LEDs that can be computer-programmed into 16 million color combinations. Traffic will be stopped on Clinton Street at State Boulevard for about 90 minutes for the dedication, allowing attendees to walk across the bridge for the ribbon cutting.
Even when traffic is flowing, however, the bridge is pedestrian-friendly: The old bridge had sidewalks 4 feet wide on each side; the new structure’s sidewalks are 10 feet at their narrowest point and 17 feet wide at the center, where there are also benches.
You felt like you were walking on a tightrope, said Michael Kummeth, manager of the bridge department at DLZ, which designed the bridge.
In addition to the wider walkways, there is a crash barrier between the road and sidewalks, making it safer for pedestrians. The Rivergreenway goes beneath the bridge on each side of the river and is not only well-lit, but features railings that match those in Headwaters Park.