In February, words will give way to jackhammers and wrecking balls, as the long-sought project to extend Riverside Avenue east to the University District gets under way. The route will be dubbed Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and historic opposition will be drowned out by progress.
Last week, the Spokane City Council approved a $3.7 million contract to tear down the old warehouses that block the path, which will eventually connect Riverside to Spokane Falls Boulevard, near the Schade Brewery building.
Some critics will carp about the cost and how many potholes that money would fill, but they fail to see the larger picture.
This project reflects the patience and perseverance of a small chorus of civic-minded people who have toiled for a quarter-century to have a street named after the civil rights leader. About 900 other cities and towns found a way to have a street named after Martin Luther King Jr., but Spokane always settled on reasons it couldn’t be done. It might be divisive. It could be expensive. It would force people to change their business cards and signs. It was always something.
Even last year’s council vote for such a street designation came with a caveat. It would happen only if Riverside Avenue were extended. Well, now it will happen, so this is an important symbolic and commercial victory for the community. Some business leaders who may not have rallied around the emotional impact of the street name have been energized by the prospects of economic vitality in the University District.
No shame in that. As Ivan Bush, one of the longtime proponents of an MLK street, said, the location reflects well on King’s focus on faith, family and education. Martin Luther King Jr. Way is a necessary part of the future because as the campus expands, it will alleviate traffic on Spokane Falls Boulevard.
As the warehouse walls fall, so will some of the city’s can’t-do attitude. The entire concept of the University District is ambitious. Many people said it couldn’t be done. Many still don’t know what has been done.
Civil rights leaders understand those sentiments.
If you haven’t toured the WSU-Spokane campus, you should. You’ll discover important programs in place and exciting ones on the drawing board. You’ll see how the campus’s vision connects with nearby medical facilities and the overall importance of health care to this community.
Persistence was essential to achieving King’s goals, and it has been vital to developing the University District, which is already nurturing the dreams of many young people and bringing hope to the region’s economy.
A street sign with Martin Luther King Jr.’s name on it will say a lot about Spokane.