One might think Ted Turner would warrant something more to honor him than an endless strip of parking lots downtown.
But his supporters, and even his family, will take what they can get. Changing a street name in Atlanta — once a city tradition — has become an emotionally charged battle.
The Atlanta City Council recently passed an ordinance to rename a little more than a mile of Spring Street, turning it into Ted Turner Drive.
Putting Ted’s first name on the street sign is the modern way of doing things. In the old days, a last name on a street sign was good enough, whether it be someone you instinctively knew, like Washington, or someone whose name ultimately landed in the dustbin of history, liked Cone. (More on him later.)
The Turner switcheroo was not without controversy. The Neighborhood Planning Unit and the Atlanta Downtown Neighborhood Association both opposed the change, saying that changing street names inconveniences residents and businesses that must change their mailing addresses. Also, tourists and suburbanites get lost.
The City Council had to ignore its own rules, which say 75 percent of the property owners along the street must approve the change. Since they were renaming the road for a maverick, council members decided to go rogue to make things happen.
There is little argument that Ted Turner should be honored by the City of Atlanta. He’s Atlanta’s rich, crazy, brilliant uncle. Before Ted Turner, Atlanta was a two-horse town named Terminus that had a train visit once a week. But the former billboard proprietor buys a struggling TV station, picks up a woeful baseball team, puts together a worldwide cable news network before anyone even heard of cable and, suddenly, people can locate the city on a map.
Xernona Clayton, a civil rights worker-turned broadcaster, came up with the idea six months ago when looking down from her office at the bustle near the CNN Center.
“The streets were crowded,” said Clayton, who worked for Turner Broadcasting as an executive. “That didn’t happen until Ted Turner turned it into a world-class area.”
At first, she figured one of the streets fronting CNN would be a natural to carry his name. However, Marietta Street is filled with many businesses, and tracking down all the property owners for approval would become a life’s mission. And Centennial Olympic Park Drive was changed from Techwood Drive just a couple decades ago. Three names in 20 years would be a bit much — even for Atlanta.
So, Spring Street, which runs alongside Ted Turner’s downtown restaurant and his Fortress of Solitude, became the “simplest inconvenience,” said Clayton. Then, not wanting to sound like they were sticking Ted with a derelict thoroughfare, she added, “It’s a good street. It runs through the heart of downtown. People use it.”
Clayton knows firsthand the pain of attempting to change a street name. Four years ago, there was an effort to rename Cone Street in her honor. It was met with protests from preservationists, business owners and descendants of Judge Reuben Cone, an Atlanta pioneer. “So, they gave me a topper and I’m grateful for that,” she said.
Clayton was referring to one of those honorary signs attached to the official street sign. Hers is at nearby Baker Street. She also has a plaque in Hardy Ivy Park. The park was a bone thrown to the Ivy family when developer John Portman wanted to change the name of Ivy Street to Peachtree Center Avenue.
Ted Turner Drive supporters were met by indifference from the 45 property owners fronting the to-be-renamed portion of Spring Street. City Councilman C.T. Martin, the sponsor of the bill, admits that Spring Street ain’t exactly one of Les Grands Boulevards. But he’s anticipatory.
“Some investors may be impressed by the name,” said Martin, who has seven street-name changes under his belt. “It’s just a matter of time before those locations (on Spring Street) take off. It will be an address people will want to identify with.”
Besides, he said, “there were more people who appreciated and supported it than opposed it.”
Kyle Kessler, president of Downtown Neighborhood Association takes issue with that, saying Martin presented the packet of information about the street change right before the council meeting, leaving opponents with no time to counter.
In the info submitted, Turner supporters got just three petitions returned from property owners, two in support, one opposed. They said they got spoken commitments from four more property owners. The city owned six properties, which were put into the “yes” category, as were the 29 unresponsives.
Talk about new math!
But, in the end, old math won out.
Nine council members voted for it and three against it. Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean was one of the three. It’s not that she doesn’t think Ted Turner is grand. It’s just that she doesn’t go for changing street names.
“Early on, I decided I’d be consistent,” Adrean said. “I don’t want to sit and judge a person’s worth.”
Good point. Is someone worth a Boulevard, a Parkway, a Terrace or just a Dead-end Street. It’s tough being a decider.
Laura Seydel, Ted’s daughter, said she’s “tickled pink for dad. It was a big blow with Turner Field,” referring the Atlanta Braves leaving the ballpark that carries her father’s name.
She, like Martin, thinks The Ted Turner Magic might do for Spring Street what it did for the area around the CNN Center.
“Maybe it won’t be an ugly street for long,” she said.
In Atlanta, prosperity is just a name change away.
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