Center Thought Unlikely to Be Named for King

Times Staff Writers

One day after the San Diego Board of Port Commissioners refused to rename the city's new $160-million harbor-side convention center after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Maureen O'Connor said Wednesday that chances now are slim that the structure would be named for the slain civil rights leader.

"I've been around politics long enough to know that, realistically, you should not hold out much hope that the convention center is going to be named for Martin Luther King Jr.," O'Connor said at a press conference at City Hall.

Meanwhile, a San Diego black leader on Wednesday launched a campaign for a nationwide boycott of the convention center, which is due to open on Oct. 31. The Rev. George Stevens said he will try to pattern the boycott after a successful one in Arizona.

There, blacks and others were urged by community activists not to travel to the state because former Gov. Evan Mecham canceled a state holiday honoring King. The resulting protest cost Arizona significant convention business.

San Diego has been embroiled in controversy on the sensitive matter of a tribute to King. Two years ago, the City Council voted to rename Market Street as Martin Luther King Jr. Way. That decision was overturned by voters in a referendum.

Opponents of changing the name of the new convention center maintained that it would confuse tourists and hurt the city's convention business. They said the new facility already was being billed to out-of-towners as the San Diego Convention Center.

The mayor expressed disappointment and surprise at the Board of Port Commissioners' 4-3 decision to propose turning the center's outdoor bay-front terrace into an "Avenue of Honors" and make King its first inductee. But O'Connor said that it may be time for the council to compromise on the issue in order to end divisiveness and racial animosity that has surrounded debate on the subject. The council has not yet scheduled new hearings on the issue.

Vote on Renaming

On Jan. 10, seven members of the nine-member City Council voted for the name change. The council directed its three appointees to the Board of Port Commissioners--a seven-member body composed of representatives of the five cities ringing San Diego Bay--to vote for the renaming.

Those three votes plus another from the appointee from National City, whose City Council also favored changing the name, seemed to assure a majority. But at a contentious commission meeting Tuesday, San Diego appointee Dan Larsen was the swing vote on the Avenue of Honors proposal. The commissioners never voted on the proposal to name the entire center for King.

Larsen maintained that he had not changed his mind but that the Avenue of Honors proposal was something new and that the City Council "deserved the opportunity to take a look" at it.

Chula Vista's representative on the commission, Robert Penner, proposed the Avenue of Honors. He said he was seeking a consensus on how to find a tribute to King.

The Port District is building the new convention center, which the city will operate. Both must approve any name change.

Councilman Wes Pratt, the only black on the council, called the Avenue of Honors "an inadequate compromise." Pratt, who represents the largely black southeast section of the city, said he would press the City Council to reject the new proposal and reaffirm naming the center after King.

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