A who’s who of Atlantans turned out Tuesday to support a city ordinance that would rename a downtown street for billionaire philanthropist Ted Turner.
Wearing tags that read “Friends of Ted Turner,” political, business and community leaders urged the Atlanta City Council committee to change the name of a section of Spring Street that runs near the CNN center to Ted Turner Drive. Among them were former Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, former CNN head Tom Johnson and retired broadcasting executive and civil rights leader Xernona Clayton.
During a public hearing that served as a tutorial in Turner’s life and work, advocates said the founder of Turner Broadcasting System is in many ways responsible for placing Atlanta on a global map through his media, humanitarian and environmental efforts.
While most at the hearing expressed support for the move, four people spoke against the proposal, saying renaming existing roads is costly and disruptive. They called for council members to find a different way to honor the longtime Atlantan.
The city utilities committee took no action Tuesday on Councilman C.T. Martin’s legislation, which must still be reviewed by the city’s urban design commission. The ordinance did not receive approval from a local neighborhood planning unit and association.
Young credited the media mogul for helping the city secure the 1996 Olympics when he founded and held the first Goodwill Games in Moscow in 1986, a move that Young said helped ease tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Young, who said he’s traveled the world with Turner on humanitarian missions, also described Turner’s efforts to eradicate polio through immunization.
“As much noise as he makes about everything else, he doesn’t make much noise about what he does,” Young said. “I think that the city and the citizens of the world need to understand how one man … can help to change the world. And I think when we name this street for Ted Turner, we perpetuate a legacy that is the best for the city of Atlanta.”
Johnson called his former boss one of the “most remarkable men in world history.” He listed many of Turner’s accomplishments as evidence, including creating CNN and TBS, owning the Hawks and the Braves for a number of years, and giving $1 billion of his own money to the United Nations.
“What other billionaire do you know who walks around the streets of Atlanta, picking up litter left on the sidewalks and depositing it in a trash can?” Johnson said. “…In my opinion, there never has been a man like him before, and I believe there never will be another man like him again.”
Clayton, who like Young has a street in her name, said the proposal “is a small honor to pay a man who has done so much for all of us.”
Turner did not attend Tuesday’s hearing. His daughter, Laura Seydel, spoke in favor of the effort.
The few dissenters who attended said Turner should be honored for his work, but that renaming a street isn’t the way to do so.
Kyle Kessler, president of the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association, said designating a park or plaza is more befitting Turner’s legacy of innovation.
Rashid Muhammad, with the downtown neighboring planning unit, said he’d like to see an honor that attracts tourists and enhances the neighborhood.
“We feel like a street sign does not add value to downtown,” he said.
Mayor Kasim Reed, who said that Turner appreciates the gesture, left open the possibility that more can be done.
“If folks think we ought to do more, I’m open to any proposals that folks view as more appropriate,” Reed said.
Georgia State University history professor Karcheik Sims-Alvarado said street names tell the story of Atlanta’s past and its future. She advocated for the proposal because “street names also tell the story of the making of modern Atlanta” of which Turner had a major part.
The council committee could take up the legislation again in May. If green-lighted, it will head to the full council for final approval.
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