Portland task force taps Bayside Trail for MLK memorial

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PORTLAND — Almost 51 years after his death in Memphis, the city is moving to memorialize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A task force led by Councilor Pious Ali has recommended naming a plaza area on the Bayside Trail near Franklin Street for the Civil Rights leader.

“It is a fitting location to memorialize the work of Dr. King,” Ali said Monday, following the Feb. 27 meeting of the council Sustainability & Transportation Committee. “It will be a reminder of him every time you walk by.”

The city is ready to spend at least $100,000 to memorialize King, who was assassinated April 4, 1968. A preliminary draft for a request for qualifications has been written, using funding Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said is from the sale of city property at Thames and Hancock streets.

The RFQ for The Martin Luther King Memorial Area envisions “a large, sculpted open space” with seating and perhaps a children’s play area close to where the trail meets Franklin Street.

“It will be more interactive, whether it is one person, 10 or 100,” Ali said.

A selection committee led by Councilor Jill Duson and the Rev. Kenneth Lewis of the Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church will be set up for the RFQ and eventually request for proposals process on specific memorial designs.

The selection committee will also include members of the task force Ali led, as well as the Public Art Committee, the Parks Commission, and city staff. 

The RFQ comes first, due out this month and likely with an April deadline. In it, interested artists are asked to demonstrate an interest in social justice, resilience and racial equity as they design a memorial concept.

Artists will be interviewed through May, and it is expected three artists will be selected in June.

Artist design presentations could begin in September, with a final selection in November. The RFQ draft notes it has not been determined whether the memorial would become part of the city’s Public Art Committee’s collection, which would then require artists to follow committee guidelines as well.

On Monday, Thibodeau, who leads the Sustainability & Transportation Committee, said the final design and expenditure “will likely come back for full council approval.”

Ali and the six other task force members began work almost two years ago, following in the footsteps of a 2008 task force led by former Councilor Dan Skolnik. The Bayside Trail was recommended 11 years ago, but no action was taken by the city to build a memorial.

The most recent task force was formed following the suggestion that Franklin Street be renamed for King. Duson and Thibodeau supported the idea, with Duson hoping it could be achieved by the 50th anniversary of King’s death.

The plan had less support in the public eye because the expansion of Franklin Street about 50 years ago cut through city neighborhoods and displaced residents.

The task force also considered memorial sites in the redesigned Congress Square Park, at Fort Sumner Park off North Street, and the Portland Landing waterfront site near the planned Amethyst Park

Ali thanked task force members Regina Phillips, Dawud Ummah, Merita McKenzie, Danielle Conway, Blanca Santiago and Daniel Minter for their work, adding the proposed site was a consensus choice reflecting different perspectives.

David Harry can be reached at 780-9092 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

The circled area on the Bayside Trail is the spot recommended for a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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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.