AVON PARK - From south to north and areas in between, a general ambivalence to renaming an Avon Park street for Martin Luther King Jr. seems to be the prevalent sentiment, regardless of the neighborhood.
After being delayed a week due to a death in Avon Park Mayor Susan Schuler's family, a Special City Council Meeting on MLK street naming options will be held at 6 p.m. April 14 in City Council Chambers, 123 E. Pine St. The meeting will be an official workshop to review the four current street naming options for an MLK street and will include citizens' input.
A drive in various communities around Avon Park on Friday to speak with residents not generally associated with the effort - the proverbial "man on the street" - showed similar love or disdain for the idea, no matter what the neighborhood.
The current options for roads to rename on the table are the intersection of Cornell Street and U.S. 27 to South Lake Boulevard through Tulane Drive, through South Verona Avenue to Main Street; Memorial Boulevard from Main Street and Memorial Boulevard to Cornell Street; South Lake Boulevard and Hal McRae Boulevard through South Lake Boulevard, through Tulane Drive and East Hal McRae, ending at Memorial Avenue; and renaming Hal McRae Boulevard "Hal McRae/MLK Boulevard," including the segment of Tulane Drive.
Around 11:30 a.m., while two men played checkers under an oak tree in the parking lot of R&W Grocery, 918 Willie Hawk Ave. - between South Verona Avenue and the southeast shore of Lake Tulane - Chester Miller, 59, sat on a bench near the store's entrance. Miller, who has lived in Avon Park since he was 5, took his first close look at maps of the street options. He suggested the city take out Hal McRae east of U.S. 27 and a road east of Lake Tulane and rename them for King. He said other streets in the area named after people such as Ernest E. Sims or Alice Nelson streets should go.
"Change it from one part to the next part. His (Hal McRae) name been up there long enough. Let someone else now go up," he said.
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At a Jan. 27 city council meeting, in front of an audience of about 115 people, the Avon Park City Council ruled out the options of renaming South Lake Avenue and Hal McCrae Boulevard or South Delaney Avenue and Main Street in honor of King.
That evening, a vote to rename the stretch of road from the intersection of South Lake Avenue and Hal McRae Boulevard to Tulane Drive, to South Verona Avenue, up to Main Street, onto Tulane and up to Lake Avenue was voted down 3-2. Council members Brenda Giles and Terry Heston voted in favor and Parke Sutherland, Garret Anderson and Schuler voted against, citing the desire to have more input from residents before making a final decision.
The April 14 meeting is another in the process of ultimately choosing a street to rename or letting the issue drop.
In 2008, during the 911 Duplicate Street Name Project, when nearby cities were asked to rename streets with the same name to avoid confusion in emergency situations, the idea to rename a street for King was dropped by the city council at that time.
The consensus among council members is that the change will take place - it's just a matter of when and where.
Avon Park City Manger Julian Deleon said the next meeting will help clarify and focus options while still considering citizens' suggestions.
"I am hopeful that the city council can identify a suitable and prospective road segment to rename after Martin Luther King," he said. "Depending on this preliminary approval, we would follow up and provide the affected property owners with notice for a public hearing where the council would make a final determination."
As he walked by the Zion Temple Holiness Church, 924 S. Woodrow Ave., Leroy Blake, 65, a lifelong Avon Park resident, said he didn't care if a street name was changed or not. He said there were more pressing issues to address regarding the city.
"It doesn't matter to me; there's no need to change anything. Just move on," he said, as he crossed the road.
Deleon said the April 14 meeting is considered a special forum to discuss the alternatives for renaming and provide a preliminary action plan. He said any vote taken will be used to confirm a direction that may be pursued.
While he raked leaves near his home at north Melrose and Manors drives in northeast Avon Park just before noon, about 4 miles north of Blake, Justin Moore, 26, also a lifelong Avon Park resident, said he liked the idea of changing the name of Memorial Boulevard. He said since the road passes the middle and high school, it would be a good way to bring up history.
"We have a street named for the Chicago Bears, so why not MLK? If you're going to change a name, change it to something that has some meaning and history to it," he said.
According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia website, about 70 percent of King streets are in Southern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas. King's home state of Georgia had the most with 105 as of 2006. Nationally, over 700 streets are named for King.
There are those who think the status quo should be maintained and changing street names is a frivolous waste of taxpayer money. As they fished on Lake Adelaide in northwest Avon Park, about a quarter-mile west of U.S. 27, Elbert Walker, 76, and his daughter, Amy Walker, 35, were against the renaming. The father and daughter moved to Avon Park two years ago from Sebring.
"I don't think they should change to MLK. I have nothing against black people; I'm not racist, but I think they're giving him too much. There's one in every town; there's not a shortage of those streets," said Amy Walker, as she watched her fishing bobber.