Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Wilmington City Council will consider changing name of downtown alley, again.

The alley in question has caused months-worth of debate (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)
The alley in question has caused months of debate. (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON — For two months over the summer city council debated giving a formal designation to an unnamed downtown alley. They finally decided — now, just months later, council will consider renaming the alley.

It all started back in June when a property owner in downtown Wilmington approached City Council with a request to name a then-unnamed alley located between Front Street and Water Street and flanked by Orange Street to the south.

What seemed like an easy solution to the problem of having an unnamed alley for emergency services access has turned into a multi-month debate. In June, property owners brought forward the request with the name “Hassinger Alley.”

But City Council was not too thrilled with the name and had concerns with the lack of information on the Hassinger being memorialized in the name. After requesting the property owner do some research and perhaps bring another name to them for approval that had some historic significance, property owners came back with the suggestion of Bob Jenkins Alley in July. Jenkins was a Wilmington historian and walking guide; City Council recently named the downtown visitor center after Jenkins.

“Staff is aware that Council recently named the downtown visitors’ in honor of Mr. Jenkins and, as a result, might prefer not to honor the revised request of the applicant; consequently, in lieu of Bob Jenkins Alley, the staff also offers the name of Dudley Alley, in honor of the late James B. Dudley, former Wilmington resident and editor of the Wilmington Chronicle,” according to the July meeting minutes.

City Council ultimately approved the naming of the alley to honor James B. Dudley, a black man, and former Wilmington resident — but now it appears that name could soon be changed.

Market House Alley

Despite property owners claiming the alley was previously unnamed, as it turns out, that wasn’t exactly accurate.

That’s why on Wednesday’s City Council Agenda, the item was once again brought before leaders to ask for yet another name change. Property owners have petitioned the council to change the name from James B. Dudley Alley to Market House Alley claiming historic documents have revealed it was the alley’s former name. But City staff are not so sure.

“The street name ‘Market House Alley’ was suggested as it may have some historic significance for that location. Market House Alley appears on only one of a series of four Sanborn Fire Insurance maps from 1884 to 1898 and has never appeared on a Powell Bill map. Staff have found no record of any official naming of Market House Alley,” according to City Council’s agenda.

Because of this, staff recommended the council not approve the name change, but leaders had a different opinion. In a 4-3 vote, the council agreed to honor the request of property owners and approve the renaming, however, a second vote will be required since Councilman Paul Lawler was the sole dissenting vote against waiving the second hearing.

Property owners and representatives of the request to change the name claim they are working to preserve history by restoring the name to its former designation.

Arguments came from both councilmembers and residents against approving the change. DdeAndré Corniffe was one of the most vocally opposed of residents to speak against the name change; Corniffe called the name change an attempt to ‘whitewash history.’

“Not until the City of Wilmington decided to give it a name and designate it James B. Dudley Alley and honor a great man did these folks decide history mattered. They are not talking about honoring history, they are talking about whitewashing history,” Corniffe said.

Despite the emotional plea, the City Council ultimately decided in favor of the applicants. Since the motion to waive a second hearing was denied, the request will come back to City Council at a future meeting. Provided the council’s opinions remain the same, the name change will be approved.

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