Thursday April 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Mayor James M. Ruberto's plan to change Columbus Avenue to Martin Luther King Jr. Drive has sparked debate over the costly implications of renaming any city street.

Ruberto's rationale for the proposal is that Pittsfield has been "remiss" about honoring the slain civil rights leader with a street or park in his name.

The mayor also believes Columbus Avenue is an appropriate choice because it connects the West Side neighborhood to North Street.

"Dr. King doesn't belong on a side street, but in the center of the city," he said.

Ruberto was before the City Council Tuesday night seeking its approval for the name change. The 11-member panel referred the matter to its Committee on Public Works and Utilities for review and a recommendation back to the entire council for a final vote.

The council subcommittee meets Monday, May 16, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

While many city residents have no qualms about recognizing King and his accomplishments, some are concerned about the financial burden posed by renaming a street. Nearly 75 residents of Columbus Arms, the elderly housing project on Columbus Avenue, have petitioned the council to reject the mayor's proposal.

"It does not matter what the proposed name would be," wrote Mr. and Mrs. John Strinie. "The really big deal is that this is ... an expense that [senior citizens] cannot afford."

The couple continued, "It costs money to change names, addresses on drivers licenses, checking accounts, etc."

The petitioners suggested putting a second sign underneath the Columbus Avenue one in memory of King or naming a nearby park after him.

Other residents oppose the name change because they unwilling to give up the Columbus Avenue designation because it honors 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.

However, longtime city activist and former director of the Christian Center, the Rev. Willard Durant, claimed Pittsfield is one of the few American cities of similar size without King's name on a street, park or building.

"We owe this to a man who gave so much and asked for so little," Durant said.

The council vowed to reach a compromise through plenty of public input on how best to display King's name in Pittsfield.

"I hope at the end of the day this is something the whole city can embrace," said Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.