More MLK Drive, Less Old World Third Street

Proposal to extend the name of the street six blocks into the Old World Third Street Historic District has wide support.

The name of a stretch of a Downtown street is expected to be changed from Old World Third Street to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

The change applies to a six-block portion of the street between West Wisconsin Avenue and West McKinley Avenue. The section of the street from McKinley north to West Capitol Drive has been named in honor of the civil rights icon since 1984.

The Milwaukee Common Council’s Public Works Committee on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the name change for the Downtown portion of the street.

An ordinance sponsored by Ald. Milele Coggs will be voted on by the full Common Council on Feb. 9. The street name change is supported by Mayor Tom Barrett and all 15 members of the Common Council.

“Displaying Dr. King’s name proudly on one of our most prominent streets allows us to honor his legacy in the pursuit of a more just future,” Barrett said in a statement. “It’s an important message to share with residents and visitors alike as they enjoy the heart of Downtown Milwaukee.”

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The street is the main thoroughfare of the Old World Third Street Historic District, which includes historic buildings such as Mader’s Restaurant, Usinger’s Sausage and the former Otto Thiele Drug Store, now Old German Beer Hall. The historic district would be unaffected by the street name change. 

“Over this past year we have seen people take to the streets in cities across the country in a renewed fight for justice and seen a rebirth in efforts toward racial equity and inclusion,” Coggs said in a statement. “In furtherance of the same positive and transformational spirit and direction of the nation we are seeking to correctly continue a rightful path.”

Coggs noted that when drivers proceed south on King Drive it abruptly turns into Old World Third Street. This serves as a reminder of the tense 1984 political fight over the renaming of the street and the “vestiges of systemic racism and segregation that have been pervasive in this city.”

“This effort will undoubtedly serve as inspiration, hope, healing and encouragement for our continued quest for justice and racial equity,” Coggs said. “The road to a more equitable city and nation will not be easy, but small efforts like this serve as a demonstration of our willingness to not be silent in the fight to usher in the necessary change for a better tomorrow.”

Also Wednesday, Omar Shaikh, the restaurateur who’s overseeing development of the new 3rd Street Market Hall in The Avenue MKE, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the food hall will keep its name despite the street’s conversion. Shaikh said he supports the street’s renaming but has discussed the possibility of a secondary honorary name of Old World Third Street with Coggs. 

 

 

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.