Push to rename Winter Haven street after Martin Luther King

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Sunday, December 31, 2017, 5:59 PM EST

There’s a push in Winter Haven to have a popular street renamed after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Push to rename Winter Haven street
  • Group wants a street named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
  • momentum seems to be in favor of renaming Avenue T

It’s been a topic of discussion on and off for more than two decades but now a committee of citizens says it has what it takes to get the job done.

Joe Halman, of Greater Works Ministries, is on that committee. He said Winter Haven is the only major city in Polk County that doesn’t currently have a street named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“This is not an issue of the city of Winter Haven per say," Halman said. "It has to do with the residents of Winter Haven, trying to agree on what street needs to be named after Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Before, Unity Way was named after Dr. Martin Luther King, but some residents pushed the commission to change the name to Unity Way, because the street wasn’t a major thoroughfare.

Halman said the debate has always centered around whether First Street or Avenue T should bear King’s name. Both streets travel through the city’s predominantly black neighborhoods.

Right now, the momentum seems to be in favor of renaming Avenue T, from Highway 17, to 11th Street Ne.

“What better road to rename than a road that crosses all segments of the community and is a major road. In fact, that’s where the Dr. Martin Luther King parade ends every year,” Halman said.

His church member Paulette Isaac-Napper agreed.

“We are the number two city in Polk County and all of the other cities, some of the cities that are even smaller population wise, have major thoroughfares named after Dr. Martin Luther King and I think we need to be very persistent about getting it done this time,” Napper said.

Avenue T property owner, Sheila Torrey, also agreed, although she had another suggestion too.

“I think it is a wonderful idea. It has been Avenue T all my life. It’s time for a change for our leadership to be recognized as Martin Luther King Blvd or Obama Boulevard," Torrey said.

City staff sent out surveys to property owners and heard back from half of them. According to the assistant city manager, the amount of property owners in favor of renaming Avenue T after Dr. King nearly tripled the amount opposed.

There was also a community meeting in December, where 26 out of 30 people returned surveys stating they supported the name change, according to Assistant City Manager Michael Stavres.

Commissioners Birdsong, Dantlzer and Chichetto said they thought it was a great idea and supported it as long as the community was behind it. Incoming commissioner JP Powell said the same.

City staff plans to present its findings to the city commission during the Jan. 8 commission.

If the commission decides to move forward, city staff would have to draft a resolution and then there would have to be two public hearings on it, before the commission would vote on it.