Kivett scion and business owners oppose MLK street renaming

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Kivett Drive credit Jordan Green
Kivett Drive passes through the heart of downtown High Point.

by Jordan Green

The cost to business owners and the legacy of the Kivett family are cited as reasons for opposition to renaming the street in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

A proposal to rename Kivett Drive in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is getting a less than enthusiastic reception among business owners on the thoroughfare.

“We’re concerned from a financial standpoint,” said Jake Aberman, a project engineer at Stone Resource, a marble and tile company near the Interstate 74 interchange. “We have to change our brochures, the address on our business cards, our website and any advertising that we do that has our address on it.

“It’s going be a significant cost,” added Aberman, whose father owns the business. “It will be tens of thousands of dollars.”

The High Point City Council voted 6-3 to recommend that the street be renamed in honor of King earlier this month. The decision rests ultimately with the city’s planning & zoning commission. Councilwoman Cynthia Davis, who voted against the renaming, said the vote will likely come up at the planning & zoning commission’s next meeting on Feb. 24.

The five-mile thoroughfare serves as an eastern gateway into High Point that provides visitors to the twice-yearly furniture market their first glimpse of the city as they travel from Business 85 into the downtown district. Almost half of the four-lane street’s span from Business 85 to Interstate 74 is lightly populated with gas stations, underused industrial buildings, used-car lots and deteriorating single-family houses that are a relic of the rural past. West of Interstate 74, churches and apartment complexes predominate. Nearing downtown, the street takes the form of a parkway, with the railroad to the north, and a city recreation center and low-income housing communities backing up to the south side. The street converts to one way, running west to east at Centennial. For a couple blocks through downtown between Lindsay and Hamilton streets, the street passes furniture showrooms like Design Legacy and Julian Chichester/Mr. Brown, along with the headquarters of North State Communications. West of Lindsay Street, the HiTran maintenance yard is one of the notable properties among a handful of vacant lots and underutilized industrial properties.

The Guilford County Tax Department lists 214 parcels along Kivett Drive, a mix of industrial, commercial and residential properties.

Musing on the proposed name change on the official King Day holiday on Monday, Abid Rafiq, owner of Padrino’s Pizza, took a dim albeit philosophical view.

He said he would have to throw out all his promotional fliers with the Kivett Drive address and print new ones.

“Telling people where I’m located it will be hard for people to locate me,” he said. “I will say, ‘I’m on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.’ They’ll say, ‘Where is that?’ ‘That’s the old Kivett Drive.’ With my accent, it becomes a little complicated.”

As a native of Pakistan, Rafiq said his experience tells him that changing the signage doesn’t necessarily change the name.

“A lot of the cities there were developed by the British, and then they changed the names,” he said. “A lot of the old city people still call it the old name. It will be easy for the new people. Any change like that takes a generation.”

Kivett Drive Motor Co., a used-car dealership located on Avondale Street, doesn’t have a Kivett Drive address but its very name is associated with the street.

“I want to leave it like it is,” said Henry Cox, the dealership owner. “I’ve been here for 52 years.”

Among the most prominent opponents of the name change is William Lindsay Kivett Jr.

In an email to members of the planning & zoning commission and city council earlier this month, Kivett wrote, “The Kivett name has been an established name in High Point since the year 1903. My great-grandfather, William Larkin Kivett, owned a large progressive 250-acre farm on the now Kivett Drive in the vicinity of where Hatteras Yachts was located. He developed a cold weather-resistant cabbage that was much sought after by farmers and merchants in other states.”

Kivett said his grandfather served in World War I, and returned to High Point to operate a grocery store and launch Kivett Produce Co., “which thrived for many decades wholesaling fresh produce (vegetables and fruits) to High Point area grocers.”

The legacy of his family name is important to Kivett, but he also highlighted the needs of present-day business owners in his appeal to city leaders.

“Please consider that many residents and businesses that will be forced to spend money to make address changes, business sign changes, some spending considerable amounts of money they cannot possibly afford,” he wrote. “It is my hope that the Kivett Drive street name will remain. Please consider another street for Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that affects less residents and businesses and that does not carry such an important history for more than 100 years. Please help to maintain the legacy and heritage of the Kivett name in High Point.”

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