After nearly 20 years of discussions and debate, Spokane finally might name a street after the nation’s most prominent civil rights leader.
The Spokane Plan Commission today will discuss a proposal to name a new stretch of Riverside Avenue after Martin Luther King Jr.
“It’s time that we have something to honor a great American,” said the Rev. Happy Watkins, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church. “We had to wait for the right time and the right moment.”
The city is finishing plans to extend Riverside Avenue east of Division Street under the Hamilton Street Bridge to connect to Trent Avenue. The goal is to divert traffic from Trent away from the growing Riverpoint campus, which is run by Washington State University.
“The street name honoring the life and works of Reverend King will make an important statement about social justice,” wrote WSU-Spokane Chancellor Brian Pitcher in a letter to the city. Ivan Bush, among the leaders of the renaming effort, said the Riverside extension meets his goal of honoring King in the heart of the city.
“He believed in his faith, his family and education. Here we have something that abuts the education in our city,” Bush said.
Derek Alderman, a cultural geographer at East Carolina University, told the Washington Post last year that about 770 streets nationwide have been named after King. But past attempts to name streets after King in Spokane have failed. In 1991, then-Mayor Sheri Barnard unsuccessfully pushed to rename the arterial route made up of Market, Greene and Freya. Other possibilities over the years have included Sherman Street and the arterial that includes Arthur, Newark and Perry.
“Sometimes the community has to be ready, and I think this community is finally ready,” said Bush, the equal opportunity officer for Spokane Public Schools.
In past attempts, opponents argued renaming streets could hurt businesses that have to change addresses. But that’s not likely to be an issue this time, because only a couple of blocks of the proposed Martin Luther King Jr. Way currently exist as Riverside.
“It’s much easier to name a new street than one that’s established,” said Spokane Public Works Director Dave Mandyke.
The older portion of Riverside west of Division through downtown will not change names under the plan.
Mandyke said the city usually prefers not to have different street names on one route. But Division acts as a natural border to start a new street, he said, especially because it will have a median and is at the edge of the University District, where addresses begin at zero.
“It will have a different character than the Riverside we know,” Mandyke said.
The idea, as well as an application fee of about $1,500, was formally submitted to the city by Spokane’s Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center. Bush said several people gave to the effort, but more may be needed to pay for other required fees.
“That’s the process that the city has in place,” Bush said. “Whether you like it or not, we have to honor that process.”
V. Anne Smith, president of the Spokane branch of the NAACP, said naming a street after King is long overdue.
“I’m hopeful that there will be a street named after Martin Luther King and that the community overall will approve and be proud,” Smith said.