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Largo's decision on King street awaits weigh-in from county

The city wants to rename S Greenwood Avenue after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but county officials will have the final say.

Most of the quarter-mile stretch south of Belleair Road lies in unincorporated Pinellas County. That means the Board of County Commissioners also will have to approve a name change, a process which officials say could take up to two months.

The City Commission voted 5-2 at its Tuesday meeting to rename the road S Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. The new moniker would match the street's name north of Belleair Road in Clearwater.

In the next 7 to 10 days, Largo will contact Pinellas County and "ask them for support on renaming their portion of the road," said Michael Staffopoulos, community development director.

From there, "it's a pretty straightforward procedure," Pinellas County Planning Director Brian Smith said.

Staffers in the county's various departments will go over the proposal, checking to make sure the name isn't used somewhere else in the city and also coordinating the name change with the U.S. Postal Service, he said.

Then, the Board of County Commissioners will vote on a resolution.

Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel said the board likely would approve the change.

"I fully support it. I think it makes a lot of sense to have a continuation of the corridor from Clearwater and to honor Dr. King," she said. "I think it will be easily accomplished."

Karen Paule, a receptionist at First Assembly of God at 1739 S Greenwood Ave., said she would welcome the name change. Giving people directions to the church is always confusing, she said.

"I've never been in a place where the same road changes names so many times," she said.

For 50 years, Ward's Seafood Market stood at 1610 S Greenwood Ave., at the southwest corner of S Greenwood Avenue and Belleair Road.

But Clearwater's large blue signs marking the street as S Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue caused so much confusion for customers that owner Michele Cameron changed the store's address to 1001 Belleair Road about six months ago.

"It was just crazy from a business standpoint," Cameron said. "Everybody was getting lost."

Even with the new address, Cameron said, giving directions is tricky. She has to juggle three different street names and figure out from what direction customers are coming.

Joe Osmani, who leases space from Cameron for his produce stand, Joe's Market, said he wouldn't mind repainting the side of his truck or changing his business cards to reflect a new street name.

"I don't know why they didn't do it to begin with," he said.

In July, Largo's Martin Luther King Memorial committee rejected the idea of renaming the road, saying it was too insignificant a move.

At Tuesday night's meeting, committee member J.B. Butler said renaming the road after King was not an adequate memorial for a man who dedicated his life to the civil rights struggle.

"It does not do the man any honor," he said.

The committee has proposed a $19,100 memorial plaza in Largo Central Park, which would include a reflecting pool and a granite lectern engraved with King's picture

The Rev. J. Arnold Johnson, the committee's chair, said Wednesday he did not oppose renaming the road, noting that a larger memorial will be built.

Plans for the memorial are on hold, he said, while city officials determine the future of the library building next to the proposed plaza site.

"It's just a matter of waiting," he said. "It will be something we can be proud of."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at (727) 771-4303 or cshoichetsptimes.com.

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