AVON PARK - Although the name will change, the memory will not.
In a highly-focused special City Council Meeting Monday night, and with two additional options presented, the Avon Park City Council voted unanimously to rename "Memorial Field" to the "Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Sports Complex."
The 5-0 vote came after about 45 minutes of review of options and comments and discussion from the approximately 30 people, including about 10 from the Highlands County NAACP and Avon Park business owners.
As of Jan. 27, four options were on the table: the intersection of south Lake Avenue and Hal McRae Boulevard, through South Lake, Tulane Drive, south Verona Avenue and ending a Main Street; the intersection of south Delaney Avenue and Main Street, south to Ernest E. Sims Street; changing Memorial Boulevard from Main Street and Memorial ending south at Cornell Street; and the intersection of south Lake Boulevard and Hal McRae through south Lake Boulevard, through Tulane Drive and east Hal McRae Avenue, ending at Memorial Avenue.
During the Jan. 27 council meeting, in front of an audience of about 115 Monday, the council ruled out the options of renaming South Lake Avenue and Hal McCrae Boulevard or South Delaney Avenue and Main Street in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
After input from community residents, by Monday's meeting, the options had doubled to eight. The added choices were renaming Hal McRae Boulevard to "Hal McRae/MLK Boulevard"; renaming Tulane Drive as "MLK Boulevard; renaming from the intersection of south Verona Avenue and Main Street all of south Verona Avenue to Ernest E. Sims Street; changing the name of Memorial Field; and changing Hal McRae Boulevard to MLK Boulevard and renaming Verona Avenue for Hal McRae.
Based on community comments, the last three suggestions came into the city the past two weeks and the concern of name duplication with Martin Luther King Jr, streets in Avon Park and Sebring was addressed. In 2008, when changing a street for King was first brought up, renaming a street for King was dropped by the city council 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.
Another concern was the cost for area businesses who would have to pay to change signs, cards and machinery to reflect a new King address. Richard Macklin, owner of Macklin Transport, 1002 W Cornell St,, said having to change vehicle registrations, bank account addresses, licenses, insurance, truck lettering and advertising, Internet listings and other business-related items would have been costly and have a "devastating impact on me." He favored renaming Memorial Field and its football field, field house and running track bordered by South Delaney Avenue, East Bell Street and East State Street.
"That may be the best option for future generations," he said.
After the decision, Macklin's office manager, Taria Macklin, who attended the meeting, said the choice made was the best decision. Memorial Field is home to youth leagues, particularly as games for Avon Park Youth Football. It was sold to the Avon Park for $10 in 1994 under the stipulation it be used for recreational purposes.
"I think it was a great idea because it will offer a better learning experience for the youth to find out about Martin Luther King. I would think with the field being renamed, it puts it (King's name) out there more," she said.
Up for much debate since the issue was first brought up was renaming a street already named for a person notable or important in the city's history, such as professional baseball standout and Avon Park native Harold "Hal" McRae. Hal McRae Boulevard runs west to east across U.S. 27 to South Lake Boulevard ending at Lake Tulane.
Aljoe Hinson, Highlands County NAACP president, said he was glad renaming Hal McRae wasn't chosen. He said McRae is a "legend" and renaming his street in conjunction with King's would be belittling to both.
"Hands off Hal McRae, he's a living legend. I know Martin Luther King is an icon in his own right and we respect him highly," he said. "For Avon Park to disgrace his name is a terrible dishonor," said Hinson, who was in favor of either renaming south Verona Avenue to Ernest E. Sims Street or Memorial Field.
Jason Lister, Avon Park public safety director, also addressed the council, suggesting if a street was changed it should be a single-name street and a street shouldn't be moved.
Although the vote was final, some members of the Highland's County NAACP weren't satisfied and said the issue wasn't over. NAACP member Maxine Floyd felt the council made the motion to vote with no discussion and Hinson said "we will be after this again."
"We have to go with it (the decision) but we still plan to fight for a street for Martin Luther King."
City Manager Julian Deleon said the final decision was the best one based on recent citizen input after city staff presented options and suggestions. He said some residents called Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland about the location and was hoping to get a Martin Luther King Jr. sign in place soon.
"I think that everyone went into this with an open mind. I am extremely pleased that the majority of the public participation agreed that Memorial Field was indeed an excellent location," he said. "I think that previous Mayor Macklin made an excellent point that Memorial Field being renamed would remind our youth of the service and dedication by King."
The field served as the original home field for Avon Park High School.