MARTA works to change 5 station names — with the help of residents

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

MARTA is working to rename five of its train stations to keep up with the city’s changing landscape and to better reflect the neighborhoods where they sit. But some residents are worried about how much input they’ll have in the process.

Bankhead train station, named after late 19th Century Alabama senator and Confederate soldier John Hollis Bankhead is on the list to get a new name. Once a major road in Atlanta and a community often rapped about by Atlanta-based acts, Bankhead Highway was later renamed for civil rights attorney Donald Lee Hollowell Jr. Parkway in a bid by the city to distance itself from Bankhead, who was also allegedly a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

MARTA is also looking to rename four other stations: Ashby, Civic Center, Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center and Lakewood/Fort McPherson. The agency has 38 train stations, but have only renamed two — Dome and Hamilton E. Holmes stations — in the past 30 years.

In the past five years, the city has done away with the Georgia Dome and built Mercedes-Benz Stadium; Philips Arena is now State Farm Arena. The city’s Civic Center was purchased by the Atlanta Housing Authority. At one time, the Ashby stop was to become Joseph E. Lowery station because Ashby Street, named after Confederate Gen. Turner Ashby, was changed to honor the civil rights leader in 2001.

If the Bankhead station is renamed, Atlanta would be losing a link to its musical heritage by renaming Bankhead, said Wintha Johnson, 22. Bankhead is an identifiable landmark in the rap community and has helped Atlanta establish its hip hop community.

“It’s a lot of history in the name,” Johnson said as she waited for a bus at the Bankhead MARTA station. “I have a lot of family in Alabama and in South Carolina and they know how to get around Atlanta because they know about Bankhead.”

Robert Tyler III, however, said a name associated with racism and segregation needs to go. While there is currency in the name because of Atlanta’s music scene, it’s not worth the price of a community’s dignity.

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“If it’s demeaning to us, we should let it go, period,” he said as he waited at the Bankhead station Friday.

The five stations due to be renamed have become obsolete because of Atlanta’s ever-changing downtown landscape and greater attention on public statues, streets and buildings, and for whom they are named.

One major addition to the downtown that could figure into a new name is Atlanta’s Gulch project, known as Centennial Yards. It will be located between Five Points and Dome/GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center stations and is expected to bring in a $5 billion mix of apartments, offices, retail, and hotels.

Harvey Newman, professor emeritus of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, said changing the name of transit stations is infinitely easier than renaming a street or some other well-known infrastructure. With street name changes, mail can be lost or people who have taken certain roads for years can be thrown off course.

“I can see the reasons why some of these name changes are appropriate,” said Newman, who has one of the shovels used to break ground at the Bankhead Station after working as a consultant on its development. “But I don’t think people are that attached. They don’t get their mail at MARTA stations.”

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

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Four town halls have already been convened to talk about the name change, the latest on Thursday night in Atlanta’s westside neighborhood at Paradise Baptist Church. About a dozen residents came to the meeting, but some were skeptical of how much they would be involved in the name change.

Residents at the meeting were asked if they were in favor of historical, geographical or corporate-based naming. No suggestions for names were asked or taken at the meeting. The MARTA board will make the final decision in the renaming process.

“The changes they’re making, I’m for it,” longtime Grove Park resident Edwin Cook said. “Just make sure we get our input.”

Timeline and costs of the changes were not immediately known.

This is MARTA’s latest attempt to rename stations. In 2001, the transit system mulled the idea of renaming West End Station after civil rights icon Ralph David Abernathy but discarded the idea after community pushback. In 2007, the transit agency wanted to again change the station’s name along with three others, but costs kept them from doing so.

The topic came up again last year when MARTA wanted to name West End Station after Abernathy and his wife, Juanita Abernathy, who at the time had just stepped down from the transit authority’s board. The board unanimously approved the name change but community efforts again thwarted them.

After consistent pushback, “We decided let’s go out and talk to folks before we go out and change names,” said Erica Pines, MARTA senior director of public engagement.

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MARTA partnered with Atlanta-based planning group The Collaborative Firm to engage residents in the renaming process. Residents at Thursday’s meeting, however, said they were given just a week’s notice about the event — which had last minute location changes — and worried if their voices would have much impact.

“I think MARTA and some city offices tend to operate more off of social media,” Grove Park Neighborhood Association president Taron Austin said. “We have some residents who don’t use computers.”

Cook wondered when residents will be updated in the process and if they will have more say in the name change.

“Do we make the decision on the historical names?” Cook said. “(They) just asked us if we wanted that as an option. How do you follow up and ask us the names we want and not the names you want?”

The Collaborative Firm is expected to present its findings to the board later this summer.

Daniel Jackson, who was at the Bankhead station Friday, said he thinks changing the name is cosmetic. What’s more important is investing in the community, which has some of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city.

“There needs to be more economic development for the community to help and assist people,” he said. “That’s something that we should fight for, not just a name change. If you change the name and people are still impoverished, what have you gained?”

Westside residents have seen Westside Park at the Bellwood Quarry and parts of the Atlanta Beltline sprout up in their neighborhoods. Overall, the dozen or so residents at the meeting were receptive to the idea of renaming the Bankhead station.

Some residents recommended renaming it after the Grove Park community. Others wanted it named Proctor Creek or Proctor Creek Greenway for the nearby creek and trail. “Regardless of what they call it, the name Bankhead has to go,” Austin said.

— Staff writers Bill Torpy and J. Scott Trubey contributed to this report