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A group of young men play basketball at East Park in Rochester last April. The Rochester Park Board on Tuesday voted 6-1 to rename the park after slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Rochester’s East Park will be renamed in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Donavan Bailey, a member of the community group that suggested a name change, said the idea grew from the realization that nothing in the city carried the slain civil rights leader’s name.

“It really grew from the idea that we are, and we are becoming, a major city, and we should have some type of representation, whether it be a street or park or what have you, that has Martin Luther King on it,” he said.

The Park Board voted 6-1 Tuesday to support honoring King by renaming the park along East Center Street.

“I think all are so excited,” said Cydni Smith, who represents the city ward that contains the park. “The last time we had a naming issue, we expressly talked about wanting to celebrate diversity and be a little bit more inspirational.”

Board member Richard Dale was the only vote in opposition, noting the change was a last-minute addition to the agenda and didn’t offer neighbors a chance to comment.

“We’re just taking it on ourselves to put this onto the neighborhood,” he said, noting he otherwise supports the name change.

While other board members acknowledged they wished more time was available for public comment, board member Angela Gupta said it appeared the majority of the board had made up its mind, which would make further efforts insincere.

“I see it as bad policy and bad public engagement,” she said of stalling for more input when a decision seems to have been made.

Bailey said the community group didn’t seek input from the local neighborhood association but noted the park serves a diverse part of the city and he believes residents would support the change.

“A lot of the community that would love this typically doesn’t have a voice at tables like this,” he told Park Board members.

“I would ask you guys to be the voices for the voiceless in all of this,” he added.

Smith raised a question regarding the appropriateness of the park, noting it is the only city park with a clear view of a prison, the Federal Medical Center.

Bailey said the potential concerns were discussed after the site was recommended by Karen Edmonds, executive director of Project Legacy.

“She mentioned it has special significance to the minority community and it would immediately resonate with those folks in the community,” he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged there likely will be some dissent, but suggested it would be minimal.

“I think in that regard, it is what it is,” he said, noting the renaming effort generated support from people involved in the discussion, including former Rochester City Council Member Sandra Means, Diversity Council Executive Director Dee Sabol and Rebeca Sedarski, community engagement coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Bailey said the community group hopes to engage neighbors and other parts of the community in activities surrounding the name change and a planned ceremony on Jan. 21, which is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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Local Government Reporter

Randy is the Post Bulletin's local government reporter, covering the city of Rochester and Olmsted County, as well as Destination Medical Center efforts. He joined the Post Bulletin staff in 2014.

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