Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Proposing To Rename Old World Third Street To MLK Drive

Extending Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. would correct an "injustice."

By - Jan 22nd, 2021 03:04 pm
Part of Third Street became Old World 3rd Street. Photo by Carl Baehr.

Part of Third Street became Old World 3rd Street. Photo by Carl Baehr.

The Milwaukee Common Council could extend N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into Downtown.

A proposal pending before the Public Works Committee would rename N. Old World Third Street to N. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. Drive from W. McKinley Ave. to W. Wisconsin Ave., erasing the Old World Third name from street maps.

It would also eliminate a political compromise created in 1984 when the Common Council and Mayor Henry Maier split N. 3rd St. into the two different streets. The compromise was broked to appease merchants, including Usinger’s Famous Sausage, on the downtown stretch of the street who objected to the name change and said it would negatively impact tourism.

Advocates had sought to name a city street after the civil rights leader following his 1968 assassination, including first attempting to rename Center Street. Later, in 1984, Capitol Drive was suggested as another compromise instead of renaming the downtown street.

The current proposal is led by Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs. The King Drive name currently stops at the southern border of her district.

“This city did Martin Luther King an injustice by not allowing his street to go all the way through,” said Coggs about the compromise in 2018.

Alderman Robert Bauman represents the area to the south and is co-sponsoring the proposal. “I have to tell you, I think it’s about time,” said Bauman when reached for comment.

In a statement released after this article was first published, Coggs said the renaming was part of a bigger fight for justice. “This effort will undoubtedly serve as inspiration, hope, healing and encouragement for our continued quest for justice and racial equity. 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,” said the alderwoman.

The proposal has the necessary political backing to pass, all fifteen council members are listed as sponsors. Bauman said he couldn’t remember the last time that happened.

You would be able to traverse King Drive from its current northern terminus at W. Capitol Dr. and N. Green Bay Ave. south to W. Wisconsin Ave. in front of what is to be called the 3rd Street Market Hall on the first floor of The Avenue.

It would be the second time the council has renamed a downtown street in recent years. In 2018, Coggs led the unanimously-adopted renaming of N. 4th St. to N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. from W. St. Paul Ave. north to W. Capitol Dr.

Vel Phillips, a civil rights pioneer in Wisconsin, passed away in April 2018 and was heavily connected to the street. She went to elementary school at the former Garfield Avenue School, now an apartment building, which is located on 4th St., she attended church at St. Marks, and was later married in the church when it was on N. 4th St., and she represented the residents that lived along the street during her time on the Common Council.

Coggs said it was also symbolically important that Phillips Ave. and King Drive ran next to one another on parallel streets. King and Phillips were believed to be friends.

There still will be a N. 3rd St. if the measure is approved. A one-block stretch runs south of E. Michigan St., another under Interstate 794 and a third from W. Auer Ave. north to W. Capitol Dr. The last segment occurs because the King Drive name was applied to the angled N. Green Bay Ave. starting at W. Burleigh St., where N. 3rd St. is interrupted for a block. For more on the many names for 3rd Street, and other city streets, see a 2016 article by City Streets columnist Carl Baehr.

The Public Works Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposal at its Wednesday meeting.

Categories: City Hall, Politics, Weekly

3 thoughts on “City Hall: Council Proposing To Rename Old World Third Street To MLK Drive”

  1. just1paul says:

    Mike K. says:
    April 23, 2016 at 1:49 pm (Edit)
    If we feel it necessary to change street names to honor various people, wouldn’t it make more sense to alter streets with nondescript names rather than to alter our already limited numerical grid? Change North Ave or Center St to MLK. Use National Ave or Greenfield for Lovell Dr. How many people traveling east on I94 come to the Lovell exit and wonder, “where the heck am I”?

    I agree with this post from the other article completely. Keeps the numbered streets west of the river intact.

  2. Keith Prochnow says:

    Finally! This way overdue. Good job, Coggs and Baumann.

  3. 45 years in the City says:

    About time!

    I watched the 1984 hearings on the (then-new) city channel. Business leadership of the day whet on and on about preserving an important piece of Milwaukee’s heritage, but none acknowledged the proverbial “elephant in the room”: They were worried their traditional customers wouldn’t come to an address on MLK drive.

    Their real problem was that they were trying to sustain out-of-date business plans for an aging demographic.

    The name “Old World” was always a joke. There are a few buildings dating from the 19th century, but hardly renaissance masterpieces the street name might suggest. The remaining blocks contain a decidedly NOT old world ambience including: 310W (AKA “blue building”), the Hyatt, the Aloft, various parking structures/surface lots, and my favorite: the contrarily named Moderne.

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