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Dunedin honors King with street, recreation center

After considering several options, the city votes to name a portion of Highland Avenue after the civil rights leader.

Published February 4, 2004

DUNEDIN - Overcoming sharp opposition from residents and the mayor, the City Commission voted Tuesday to rename the new Stirling Recreation Center and a portion of a street after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The decision came two months after commissioners rejected renaming Patricia Avenue and the Dunedin Community Center for the civil rights hero, two recommendations of a committee formed early last year to promote diversity in the city.

At a special meeting Tuesday morning, commissioners fashioned a compromise: The $2.8-million Stirling Recreation Center being built on Laura Lane will be renamed the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center. A portion of Highland Avenue between Skinner Boulevard and San Christopher Drive will also be renamed in his honor.

Last year, the commission did accept some of its Inclusion Task Force's recommendations. The city sponsored a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Day on Jan. 19, and it declared Diversity Week that week. The city also is working with Pinellas County to create markings on the Pinellas Trail to commemorate King and other Americans who contributed to inclusion. Another committee recommendation, to have a Diversity Month, will take place in 2005.

But Commissioner Dave Eggers did not give up on renaming a street or a building. He called for the special meeting Tuesday to resume the discussion.

"I felt the entire package that was recommended needs to be heard," he said. "It is clear that the real reason for this is to honor a person who has made a significant impact on our country, and in turn, our city. There's a still a lot we have to do."

Mayor John Doglione put up several roadblocks to renaming the street and facility, at one point proposing to send the issue to a referendum. He also referred to the city's guidelines for naming public facilities for individuals, saying under the current resolution, King would not qualify. Commissioners voted to amend that resolution Tuesday.

"Dr. King, for all that he did, I think would be a little bit startled that we are continuing to name things for him, when, in fact, our committee was called the Inclusion Committee," he said. "It was to do something that would include everyone, and yet we are becoming symbolic in creating an issue that we must name a facility for one individual."

The Dunedin Inclusion Task Force had originally recommended renaming Patricia Avenue or County Road 1 after King. Business owners on Patricia, though, expressed opposition to the idea, citing the economic impact changing the street name would have on their businesses. County Road 1 was ruled out because the street was not a city street.

Residents of County Road 1 showed up Tuesday anyway. One presented a petition of more than 300 names against changing that roadway's name.

"We are opposed to renaming any street because of the inconvenience it will create, especially for the elderly," said Robert Young, a resident. "Every person will be required to contact many organizations and agencies."

Kenneth Roy, Palm Harbor resident, also spoke against the renaming. He said diversity promotes division, not unity. He even talked about his opposition to affirmative action, saying it amounts to reverse discrimination. He said the commissioners were "choosing to become blind followers of an irrational policy gone awry."

Roy said naming a street has already been done in many places in Pinellas County, and any more would be redundant. Dunedin has been one of the largest cities in the county to not have a street named after King. Largo has continued to reject the idea, while Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs and Safety Harbor all have streets named for King.

"A national holiday has also been named for him," Roy said. "That is more than enough being paid for by overburdened taxpayers."

Doglione said he was against renaming Stirling because its name honors Dunedin's sister city, Stirling, Scotland. Changing the name would be a "downer to the Scottish heritage" of the community, he said.

Doglione used the Pinellas Trail marking as a reason for not naming the street or building after King. He said he envisioned the crossing would have a large granite of rock and a bronze plaque containing an outline of King's historical message.

People who use the trail would have the opportunity to pause and reflect on King's achievements, he said.

"Sure we can put up signs on streets, put up signs on facilities - who is going to see them in this community?" he asked. "Everyone who walks down the trail will see what the city of Dunedin has done that is categorically different than what everyone else is doing."

The proposal to rename a street or building has nothing to do with the other recommendations, Commissioner Bob Hackworth said. The naming would be to complement and enhance the efforts of the community to promote diversity, he said.

Doglione stalled the meeting again when the motion was made to rename a part of Highland Avenue. No one who lives on that street was present at the meeting. He asked to delay the vote until those people could be contacted.

That portion of the street only has a couple of businesses and about six homes. Hackworth said no street is without some potential problems, but there are times when public purpose outweighs individual concerns.

"Would I prefer that every person on Highland Avenue have the right to speak to it? Yes," Hackworth said. "However, it's an imperfect world. Our process is not pretty sometimes."

It was clear commissioners were growing impatient with their leader. At one point, Deborah Kynes said, "I would like to call the question. Let's take a vote."

Once the final vote was taken, Doglione apologized to the residents and business owners on Highland Avenue. He then adjourned the meeting.

Kamill Hilberth, a chief technology officer for GT&T Inc., said he was unaware that the mailing address for his business had been changed. GT&T, a software company, has been located at 1335 Highland Avenue for about a decade.

"That's amazing how people can make decisions without involving the people who are impacted," he said. "Why Martin Luther King? He didn't live here."

But commissioners say renaming a street and facility sends the message that Dunedin is a place that welcomes people of all backgrounds.

Dunedin Inclusion Task Force member Willie Marcor said she was pleased with the renaming of the Stirling Recreation Center. But she professed her disappointment that the entire Highland Avenue wasn't renamed.

"I would have liked to see the street come down to Main," she said. "The building? Now I'm proud of that. I think we have accomplished something and I was a part of that.

[Last modified February 4, 2004, 01:31:46]

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