Detroit council OKs renaming Chene Park after Aretha Franklin

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution that will rename the city's Chene Park to honor the late Aretha Franklin.

The measure for the Aretha Louise Franklin Amphitheater was approved by an 8-0 vote at the top of the panel's formal session. President Brenda Jones made the announcement alongside Mayor Mike Duggan and relatives of the Queen of Soul, who was honored Friday at a funeral service at Greater Grace Temple that spanned about eight hours.

"If you did not personally know her, I can tell you she had love for this city," Jones said after the vote. "She was a very personal person with a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She definitely showed respect to everyone."

Aretha Franklin performs during the BET Honors at the Warner Theatre in Washington in 2012.

The proposal was first announced Friday by Duggan during the celebration of Franklin's life. Franklin's niece, Cristal Franklin, said she's amazed by the city's outpouring of love and admiration for her aunt.

"It will definitely solidify her place in history," Franklin, 45, told reporters after the resolution was adopted. "For generations to come, young people will grow up and say 'who is Aretha Franklin and what did she do?'"

Franklin said the city moved quickly on the name change, which is expected to be completed and in place by the start of the 2019-20 season, she noted. 

Her aunt, she said, was a humble woman who never would have anticipated such an honor.

"It would have been so off the radar for her," she said. "She would bask in it."

From here, Jones said she will work on a formal ordinance that will make the move law. Detroit's council on Tuesday also asked its legal council as well as the city's Law Department to draft recommendations to codify procedures for the renaming of parks in Detroit, since a formal policy hasn't previously been adopted.

Chene Park was the site of Thursday's tribute concert to Franklin, where a sold-out crowd of more than 6,000 fans gathered to watch a sprawling cast of singers pay tribute to the Queen of Soul.

The park opened in spring 1985 after former Mayor Coleman Young said he wanted a venue for Detroiters that would rival Pine Knob, which has since been renamed DTE Energy Music Theatre.

The park was named for Charles Chene, a French immigrant who owned land along the Detroit River.

But not everyone is impressed with the city's plans to honor the late Franklin. The Rev. W.J. Rideout, an activist who founded the Defenders of Truth and Justice, said he and a coalition of others believe the gesture isn't grand enough for Franklin. 

Rideout said he and others are advocating for Cobo Hall to be renamed in Franklin's honor. 

"She was not just an ordinary person. Let's give credit where credit is due," he said. "The time is now to say 'let's do something bigger and better than this for Aretha Franklin.'"

The prospect of renaming Cobo Center has recently been under debate. Last year, the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority, which oversees the facility, hired a firm to search for clients interested in purchasing naming rights. A representative said the naming of the facility is a "marketing transaction" and the facility "benefits from a revenue stream." 

The center, named after former mayor Albert E. Cobo, was built by Detroit and opened in 1960. Duggan has said he supported the authority's efforts to explore a name change, saying Cobo's tenure was about "government by exclusion." 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan's chief of staff, said in a statement provided to The Detroit News on Tuesday that the plan to rename Chene Park for Franklin has generated a response from the public, City Council and Chene Park leadership that's been "overwhelmingly positive."

"Most important is that the Franklin family is fully supportive of this gesture, and we want to honor their wishes," Wiley said. 

As a separate honor, Franklin last year had a street named for her in Detroit. 

Franklin's sister-in-law, Earline Franklin, said she was one of Franklin's final caregivers and that relatives are still trying to process everything that has taken place.

Being a part of such a "royal family" is much more than she could have ever imagined, she said.

"It has been a journey of love, peace and happiness," she said. "We're looking forward to everything that is going to take place."