FORT WAYNE – Just hours after hundreds of local residents commemorated the nearly $9 million Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Bridge, a grass-roots group called on the city to do more to honor the civil rights leader.
Wayne Township Trustee Rick Stevenson and community activist Larry Lee are co-chairing the effort to rename Clinton Street as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard throughout Fort Wayne. They announced their plans Tuesday.
Both Lee and Stevenson thanked the city for its work in creating a stunning gateway bridge on Clinton Street in honor of King, but both also said an "American hero" such as King deserved more.
"This architectural enhancement," Stevenson said of the bridge, "falls short of giving Dr. King his due."
On Monday the city had a grand opening of the new $8.8 million bridge on Clinton Street over the St. Marys River. In attendance was Derek King Sr., the nephew of the civil rights icon.
"There are not many municipalities that have dedicated a bridge – and certainly not of this caliber – in the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Derek King said in a prepared statement. "Fort Wayne has done something very unique. … It's a grand statement into Fort Wayne's downtown and a fine tribute to my uncle."
Jonathan Ray, CEO of the Fort Wayne Urban League, said there are 900 communities across the United States that have dedicated a thoroughfare to King, and Fort Wayne should join the list.
Ray, who spoke with Stevenson and Lee, said he understands the process requires a transition so as to not be overly burdensome to residents.
Stevenson said the group would like to see Clinton Street renamed on Dec. 31, 2015, which he believed would give businesses enough time to adapt to the change.
Clinton Street was named after a member of the then-powerful Clinton family from New York State, according to Randy Elliott of The History Center. He said it was difficult to determine which member but said that one was Vice President George Clinton. Michael Galbraith, executive director of ARCH, said it was likely named after DeWitt Clinton, a governor of New York, Federalist presidential candidate and the driving force behind the Erie Canal.
There have been some street name changes fairly recently, including a section of Leo Road between Auburn and Dupont roads being renamed Clinton Street last decade. The small section of Northrop Street also was changed to Lima Road to eliminate confusion for drivers.
In addition, a large chunk of U.S. 24 will have to be renamed once the state completes its Fort to Port project and provides a new highway. Changing a large thoroughfare simply to honor someone, however, has not been done recently, according to area transportation officials.
To change the street, city policy requires the group to collect a petition with signatures from at least 60 percent of the affected property owners, according to Frank Suarez, city spokesman. The petition would then go to Mayor Tom Henry and be forwarded to the city plan commission, which would conduct a public hearing on the proposal.
According to Polk City Directories' listings of Fort Wayne addresses, there are 205 business addresses on the nearly 12 miles of Clinton Street. In addition, there are 374 homes.
Stevenson said his group has collected more than 1,000 signatures in support of the change, but he did not say how many of the signatures came from people who own property on Clinton.