Effort to rename Grand River Avenue in Old Town Lansing meeting with resistance


In the 1990s, the city of Lansing renamed a portion of Grand Avenue downtown in honor of Cesar Chavez. Opponents got a measure to change it back on the ballot though, and voters decided to remove the Chavez name.

Now, another effort is underway to rename a major street after the late labor leader.

The street in question is Grand River Avenue, in the heart of Old Town.

WKAR's Scott Pohl reports that while there's support for honoring Chavez in Old Town, there's some resistance to renaming Grand River Avenue for him.

AUDIO: Opposition to changing the name of Grand River Avenue in Old Town Lansing centers on two main issues: confusion, and economics.

The current layout of Grand River Avenue clearly mystifies some people. Former Lansing mayor David Hollister, who supports renaming the street for Cesar Chavez, thinks the change might alleviate some of that.

"It's really quite unique," Hollister says. "You've got Grand, which runs north along the river, and then there's Grand River, and then there's East Grand River, and so there's a portion of the community over there where there's three different designations of Grand and Grand River. So, it's very confusing, and it seems logical that you could take one of them and designate it Chavez."

At least one business owner on Grand River agrees. Pablo Maldonado owns Pablo's Restaurant. He says he's okay with making the change or not making the change, but people are often confused when trying to find his place. He thinks naming this stretch after Cesar Chavez might help.

"Definitely," Maldonado says. "If you change the name, it would be helpful for everybody, because they don't feel all confused. There will be a unique name, just for this part of Old Town."

Support from the Hispanic community

It seems that many others in Lansing's Hispanic community feel that way, too.

Over Memorial Day weekend, organizers collected letters of support at the annual Fiesta at Cristo Rey Church in Lansing. Elva Reyes was there to promote the group she chairs called Lansing for Cesar E. Chavez.

Reyes knows that many Old Town businesses are against the proposal. They don't want to be forced to spend money on reprinting materials bearing their current Grand River addresses, and some worry about mail sent to a Grand River Avenue address going undelivered.

Reyes says the committee has tried to alleviate those concerns.

"We've actually negotiated with a local printer for any printing that needs to be redone," Reyes says, "and we've also checked with the United States Postal Service, and they have assured us that there's a built-in mechanism, so that if you have a business on Grand River Avenue, and ten years from now you get mail, it will actually come to you."

Businesses oppose renaming Grand River Avenue

The Old Town Commercial Association surveyed about 60 businesses facing the change, and a large majority opposes renaming the street.

The association would like to find a compromise. One idea is to have the street bear both names, with Cesar Chavez Avenue signs going up above the Grand River Avenue signs. Campaign organizer Elva Reyes says that would be "half-hearted."

Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director Brittney Hoszkiw says it's important that the two sides work together on a memorial that would leave the Grand River Avenue name in place.

"I think that no matter what memorial is put in place," Hoszkiw says, "whether it's a street name change, or an honorary name change, or a scholarship fund, or murals, or statues, or a plaza, or a festival, I mean, no matter what that thing is that becomes reality, this is a celebration, and this an extremely positive thing for the city of Lansing and for Old Town."

"I'm completely opposed to it."

That's Aura Ozburn, owner of a Grand River Avenue shop called October Moon.

"I think there's many beautiful ways to honor such an incredible man," Ozburn says. "Changing five blocks of a street doesn't seem to do justice."

Ozburn says October Moon would face $10,000 in new costs for printed materials.

The confusion issue remains thorny, as there's disagreement about the change making it easier to find Old Town addresses. Cecilia Garcia is owner of Mama Bear's Caf on Turner Street.

"The Old Town Commercial Association has spent a great deal of time and money over the last ten years to really market this area and brand it, and make Turner and Grand River like the focal point of Old Town," Garcia says. "And so, to kind of have that name change after so much hard work went into it, would be a little disheartening to the community."

The name change proposal has been sent to Lansing's Memorial Review Board, which has 90 days to act. So far, they have not met, and they don't have any meetings scheduled before that 90 days runs out in late June. The proposal would then go to the city council, which would schedule a public hearing in July or August. The council could rename that 2.8 mile stretch of Grand River Avenue after that.