After another year of study and debate, Portland’s quest to honor civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. will continue into 2019.

After two task forces and years of study, City Councilor Spencer Thibodeau said the city staff is working on a proposal to create an educational memorial for King on a section of the Bayside Trail. He expects staff to bring forward a recommendation to the council’s Transportation and Sustainability Committee this spring.

“This is one of those things I really want to get done,” said Thibodeau, who chairs the committee. “Sometimes, the best option is right in front of you. And that was definitely the case here.”

Spencer Thibodeau

However, a City Hall spokeswoman said the staff has yet to reach a final decision.

“We are looking at sites on the trail but at other sites as well,” Jessica Grondin said. “(We) plan to bring concept and location to (the) committee late spring (or) early summer.”

Thibodeau said the city has earmarked $50,000 to $100,000 for the memorial. That funding came from the sale of city-owned land at Thames and Hancock streets to Wex, the credit card processing firm that is building a new corporate headquarters at the site.

Pious Ali

Creating a King memorial on the Bayside Trail was one of the recommendations from a task force in 2008. The proposal never moved forward because private efforts to raise $750,000 were stymied by the Great Recession.

Efforts to honor King were renewed two years ago, when Councilor Jill Duson and City Manager Jon Jennings recommended renaming Franklin Street as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The concept was initially supported by the council’s transportation committee. But it was put on hold in February 2017 after about two dozen people spoke out against the plan. Critics were still upset that the city seized and demolished more than 100 homes inhabited by immigrants in the 1960s to build the Franklin Arterial, a major thoroughfare connecting Interstate 295 to the Portland waterfront.

That March, councilors formed the nine-member Martin Luther King Recognition Task Force, led by City Councilor Pious Ali, to study the issue and report back to the council by June. But the group struggled to get a quorum at its meetings and was disbanded. It was later re-established by the council.

Ali said the task force ultimately endorsed the trail recommendation from 2008.

Last June, the transportation committee indefinitely postponed a vote and instructed Jennings to look for a place for a memorial in an existing public space. Jennings was not available for comment Friday afternoon, but Thibodeau said staff members ultimately came back to the trail option.

Ali said he was pleased that the city is still committed to the project.

“It’s exciting,” Ali said. “I am very lucky to have worked with a group that cares about Dr. King and everything he stood for.”

King never visited Portland, but he did speak in Brunswick and Biddeford.

A city report drafted in 2008 said more than 600 U.S. communities in 39 states have a permanent memorial for King, a minister, gifted speaker and community activist who advocated for racial and economic justice through nonviolent protest and civil disobedience.

There is at least one memorial in Maine – the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Memorial Plaza at the University of Maine in Orono, which was dedicated in 2008.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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