San Diego Council Votes to Rename Center for King

Times Staff Writer

The City Council, hoping to end years of racially divisive conflict over the question of a suitable civic tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., voted Tuesday to add the slain civil rights leader's full name to the title of the new San Diego Convention Center.

The council's 7-2 vote sends the matter to the seven-member board of the San Diego Unified Port District, which is building the $160-million bay-front center and must approve any name change. The decision came despite strong warnings from Mayor Maureen O'Connor that the port commissioners are not happy with the new title.

O'Connor, who met with the commissioners before the council session, said that most of them may vote against the tribute in the belief that a name change would hamper marketing efforts.

Hoping for a compromise, O'Connor, who supports the tribute to King, proposed that the facility continue to be marketed as "San Diego Convention Center" after King's name is added to the title.

But with Councilwoman Judy McCarty switching sides to provide a crucial fifth vote, the council voted 5-4 to market the center under its proposed new name: San Diego Martin Luther King Convention Center.

"I just can't imagine naming the convention center something and then not marketing it under that name," McCarty said. "It's almost as if you're ashamed of it and you don't want the rest of the world to know."

"I'm not holding out much hope, and that's what I was trying to tell everybody," O'Connor said of the proposal. "I voted for what I thought had the hope of getting through the port commission."

Commissioner Raymond Burk of Coronado said Monday night that he will vote against the name change "Not because I do not honor Dr. King, but because I believe it is inappropriate."

Burk said that he believes King's name should be added to an edifice that has no title, such as a proposed new civic center complex in downtown San Diego.

The two votes ended the council's role in the dispute. After considering a number of proposals, the council in 1986 voted to rename Market Street, a main thoroughfare in the city's center "Martin Luther King Way." But voters overwhelmingly rejected the tribute in a 1987 referendum that followed a racially polarized campaign led by area merchants.

Although the city has an elementary school and a park named for King in its largely black southeast section, black leaders have lobbied ever since the referendum for a more visible tribute to King, who was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.

After taking seven months of testimony from the public, a committee appointed by the city recommended adding King's name to the title of the convention center, despite their vow not to rename any existing facility.

Although it was given its current name in a 1985 agreement between the city and the port district, the convention center is still under construction and will not open until this fall.

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