Dover City Council voted to hold a public hearing in early October on the renaming of Division Street and other parts of Del. Route 8 to Martin Luther King Boulevard from the western to the eastern city limits at its meeting Monday night despite divided comments during public comment.
Council's 8-0 vote came after public comment in which supporters argued for the renaming while local merchants spoke about the economic impact the name change would cause.
"I realize the irony of questioning the decision to rename Division Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard, a man who spent his entire life trying to bring people together," State Street Inn owner Yvonne Hall said. "However, my concerns are not about the wisdom of renaming the street after Dr. Martin Luther King but about the cost."
Hall said the city needed to conduct a financial analysis for everyone affected by the proposed name change.
"It's my belief that there are other priorities that the city should consider, such as additional police," she said.
Merle Norman Cosmetics owner Helen McCusker said the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce was drafting a letter that would ask council to delay any change by about a year in order to allow local businesses to utilize the advertising and stationary they had already invested in, such as the yellow pages and business cards, McCusker said.
"By pushing the date back, it would allow these businesses to invest in new marketing materials and promotional materials in the next budget cycle," she said.
But, the Rev. John Moore, youth pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Dover, said putting a dollar figure on renaming Division Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard missed the mark. Four little girls were killed when the Sixth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. was bombed 18 days after King gave his "I have a dream" speech on equality 49 years ago.
"That kind of devastation really brought the nation together because they saw the evils that were happening because of division and segregation," Moore said. "It was because of that tragedy that segregation lost its power and people began to come together."
It was high time the capital city of the First State renamed part of its city after King and gave the community something to be proud of, Moore said. That would ultimately be an advantage for locals businesses, he added.
Page 2 of 2 - But Paul Olsen, a North State Street resident, said battling crime in the city was more important than the "non essential expenditure of monies" on street signs and maps, et cetera.
"We don't need it in today's challenging economic times," he said. "To have a policeman tell me, 'We have more important things to investigate than your hit-and-run, Mr. Olsen,' means only one thing to me. We need to support our police chief and the staff he needs. It's more essential than spending money on street signs."
In response, Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church Pastor Ellis Louden compared the state capital to Seattle, Wash., whose entire county was renamed after King.
"This is an overdue action for Dover, Delaware, when you have other parts of the country that have not only named streets but even a county after a man who was one the premiere prophets of the 20th Century," he said. "The least we can do [is] honor a man who improved quality of life for everyone in this country. "
Councilman David Anderson said he supported the renaming of Division Street, which is part of Del. Route 8. But he expressed concern about the committee's decision to expand the length of the proposed MLK Boulevard to include Forrest Avenue. The original proposal was to rename Del. Route 8 from U.S. Route 13 to Saulsbury Road, where Forest Street ended and Forrest Avenue began.
"I hear no objections from the Division Street area," Anderson said. "But I do hear a number of concerns from the Forest Street area."
Councilman David Bonar said the public hearing would help determine whether this initiative would move forward and the boundaries of MLK Boulevard, if ultimately approved.
The chairwoman of the MLK committee, Star Hill A.M.E. Church Pastor Rita Mishoe Paige, said she understood opposition would be part of this long process. But Paige said she was pleased council set a public hearing, which would help determine the final boundaries, she said.
"It is part of our steps toward the final victory."