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Panel urges King name for Toledo Express

Toledo Express Airport should be renamed after slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., a committee formed by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will recommend in a report today.

The MLK Jr. Street Renaming Committee will give the mayor its report about 9 a.m. The Rev. Robert Culp, a committee member, said the idea to rename the airport is not new, and it resurfaced in the last four weeks as the committee researched ideas for what to name after Dr. King.

Collingwood Boulevard, the central-city street that runs through the historic Old West End and a source of controversy since the committee named it as first choice two months ago, is now the panel's second choice.

Cherry Street, which leads to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge, just north of downtown, is the committee's third choice, Mr. Culp said.

Mr. Culp said he believes that if the recommendation is accepted, Toledo's airport would be the first in the country named after Dr. King.

“During our research, not only could we not find another airport named after Dr. King, but we couldn't find an airport named after an African-American,” Mr. Culp said. “We came into this without a street named after Dr. King, which really put us behind the times. Now we have a chance to leapfrog and do something that no other city in America has done.”

Another committee member, the Rev. Theodis Horton, said, “So many people come through the airport - not just from Toledo but from around the world - it looked like a great way to touch a lot of people.”

Mr. Culp said the idea was treated positively in private conversations with several community leaders, including James Hartung, president of the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority.

Toledo city council ultimately may have final say over any name change. When the port authority suggested changing the name to Toledo International Airport in 1997, then-city law director Ed Yosses said he thought only council would have to vote on whether to change the airport's name. Barbara Herring, the city's law director, could not be reached last night for comment.

Precedent exists for the view that any change would be council's call. In 1977, council voted to change Toledo Municipal Airport's name to Metcalf Field. Metcalf, in Lake Township, was the city's main airfield before Toledo Express was built in the 1950s. Today it is used primarily by private and corporate aircraft.

Mr. Culp said he feels the choice of the airport takes away many of the issues brought up in the controversy surrounding the efforts to rename Collingwood Boulevard after Dr. King.

Members of the Old West End Association strongly opposed renaming Collingwood. They cited the historical nature of the street and the fact that it was already named after somebody. The association waged a campaign that included yard signs and a letter-writing effort to the committee and the mayor against renaming the street.

Mr. Finkbeiner declined comment on the report until it crosses his desk. He said he had heard that the committee might recommend the airport along with a number of other possibilities.

He said each recommendation will be given careful consideration.

Mr. Hartung said he believes city council and the port authority would have to agree on the name change.

Mr. Hartung would not comment on whether he liked the idea, but rather that it will be researched. He said he wanted to determine whether the city's name should be a part of any new name to maximize the marketing potential.

“Everything is still so premature,” Mr. Hartung said. “It's a legitimate request, and it will receive the careful scrutiny of such a request.”

If local officials were to change the name of Toledo Express, the airport's three-letter identifier used by the Federal Aviation Administration in radio transmissions and on maps likely would not be altered, an FAA spokesman said. Toledo Express's identifier is TOL.

A small, publicly owned landing strip near Malta, Mont., has had MLK as its identifier, in apparent reference to the Milk River Valley in which Malta is located. The city is in north-central Montana, about 50 miles from Canada.

However, after the airfield was moved two years ago, it was given the new identifier M75 by the FAA to be used by pilots traveling to the airport and as a reference in flight plans, according to Dixon Hitch, who operates Hitch Aviation at the airfield. He said the MLK identifier is now used as the airport's radio beacon.

Airport identifiers were not changed when Congress renamed the former Washington National Airport the Reagan National Airport, and when the name of the Kent County Airport in Grand Rapids, Mich., was changed to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Bob Handschiegel, regional operations officer of the FAA's Great Lakes Region, said.

The Reagan airport kept the letters DCA and the Ford airport retained the letters GRR, he said.

“Based on that I would think [Toledo's letters] would remain unchanged, but that is not cast in stone,'' he said. It has been the practice that large airports, including ones the size of Toledo Express, don't win approval to change the letters, he said, but he couldn't explain why.

Occasionally, small airports will be allowed to change them but not always, he said.

Mr. Handschiegel, who also has an ownership interest in the small Casa De Aero Airport in suburban Chicago, said he tried to get his airport's designator changed from C38 to CDA to reflect the airport's name.

His request was rejected without explanation, he said.

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