Franklin Street in Portland may be renamed for MLK Jr.

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PORTLAND — A day after the city celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a drive began to name a major street after him.

The City Council Sustainability & Transportation Committee, led by Councilor Spencer Thibodeau, was scheduled to begin discussions on Tuesday, Jan. 17, about renaming Franklin Street in honor of the slain civil rights leader.

“I’m just really glad Councilor (Jill) Duson and others have been working on this and I can help push it forward,” Thibodeau said Jan. 12.

Thibodeau said he expects the name change will be an action item for the committee when it meets Feb. 15, and public comment will be accepted then.

Franklin Street crosses the city peninsula, running from Marginal Way to Commercial Street. According to city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin, the street dates to the 18th century, when it was called Essex Street. It grew in length as the Fore River was filled in for development and eventually terminated at Franklin Wharf.

Franklin Street was significantly widened almost 50 years ago as part of an urban redevelopment project that gutted Portland neighborhoods in favor of a four-lane road bisected by a median strip.

Renaming Franklin Street in honor of King restarts a city effort to fully commemorate the legacy of the civil rights leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was assassinated in 1968.

In 2009, a commission led by then City Councilor Dan Skolnik and present state Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, was formed with 15 other members. Talbot Ross is also president of the city’s NAACP chapter.

The commission eventually issued a request for proposals for some kind of memorial, but in 2013, Talbot Ross said there was both a lack of responses and available funding to move forward.

City Councilor Jill Duson said Jan. 12 she hopes the newly named Martin Luther King Boulevard will be unveiled as part of the January 2018 events to honor King on the anniversary of his birth.

“It is a street name that appears on a map … a premier opportunity to name something for Dr. King” she said.

Thibodeau said he hopes the name change proposal will be taken up by the full City Council in late March.

The proposed name change requires and has received approval from the state Department of Transportation.

“It’s really more of a courtesy that they asked us, because we will be the ones making and installing all the new signage,” MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said Jan. 12.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Franklin Street in Portland could be renamed in honor of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by mid-January 2018.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.
  • Mainer1

    I can’t think of a more divisive street than Franklin. It splits the city, can’t cross as a pedestrian and is ineffective with traffic. Good choice city