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Neighborhood Association backs park name change

January 14, 2019

Members of the Eastside Pioneers Neighborhood Association offered unanimous support Thursday for the naming of Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

“I finally believe tonight we have a noble act to embrace a noble idea,” said Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick, who was elected association president in November, shortly before concerns were raised about the renaming of East Park.

With approximately 15 members of the neighborhood association gathered at St. Francis Church Parish Center, the only vote opposing the name change for East Park came from Rochester resident Mike Miller, who lives outside the neighborhood boundaries.

“This is a local park; this isn’t a national park,” said Miller, who voiced similar concerns during Tuesday’s Rochester Park Board meeting. “I think there is a difference there.”

He said he’d prefer to see the park named after a local black person, such as Verne Manning, who operated the Avalon Hotel when it was the only place in the city that would rent a room to some racial minorities.

Park Board Member Cydni Smith said discussions about renaming other parks and facilities to honor local residents, especially minority members who represent the city’s diversity are being held and the board welcomes any suggestions.

The renaming of East Park, however, offered a larger perspective by honoring a King and the civil rights movement, she said.

Donavan Bailey, a member of the community group that suggested a name change, said that was the goal, noting Rochester should take its place alongside more than 600 other communities that have shown similar support by naming a street, park or something else for the slain civil rights leader.

“The name Martin Luther King is synonymous with greatness as far as human rights goes,” he said.

Kirkpatrick said that’s why she appreciated the neighborhood association’s vote Thursday, noting it had been a challenge to represent the neighborhood group that appeared to be divided on the issue.

Much of the division, she said, stemmed from the process that led to a Park Board vote on renaming the park.

While the idea was expected to be presented during a Rochester City Council meeting, Smith said it was sidetracked when then-Mayor Ardell Brede missed the meeting following the death of his wife. As a result, the proposal was made public for the first time during a Dec. 4 Park Board meeting.

With hopes of holding a ceremony on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, board members indicated support at the December meeting and opted to approve the request since further comment was unlikely to change the outcome.

When the neighborhood association raised objections to the process, Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman organized a Dec. 7 meeting to discuss concerns, which were revisited at the Park Board meeting Tuesday,

That meeting also included first steps toward addressing concerns. Proposed naming-policy changes would require the parks department to reach out to neighborhood associations and other groups for comment.

Additional changes discussed would require the conversation to be held during at least two meetings, but Widman said the required notification process could easily extend the process.

“If you look at the new policy, I really feel it’s going to take at least two to three Park Board meetings before another name change can occur, and we welcome that, because that’s three opportunities for people to show up at our meetings,” he said.

Rochester City Council Member Mark Bilderback, who represents the ward that contains East Park, said the renaming has spurred the discussion of policy changes that will increase public engagement in the future, which he said reflect’s King’s objectives.

“This should never happen again,” he said. “Neighbors should be involved.”

The ongoing discussion has also helped raise awareness of deficiencies in the park.

Kirkpatrick cited the lack of water and lights for basketball players using the recently updated courts. She also expressed the desire to see the neighborhood association work toward establishing a community garden and building on work it has done in the past.

“I want to go forward, and I think MLK Park is going to be really incredible, because with what I want to do as president, it’s going to be the best darn MLK Park in the state,” she said.

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