KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — With only a couple months before the new Kalamazoo County Downtown Justice Center is expected to open, a group is pushing to change the building’s name to honor a former judge.
The request was discussed Tuesday at the Kalamazoo County Commission Committee of the Whole meeting. The panel received a letter last month in which the Kalamazoo County Bar Association asked that the new courthouse be named the Judge Charles A. Pratt Justice Center.
Pratt was the county’s first Black judge, serving in the 8th District Court from 1968 to 1980. Pratt also grew up in Kalamazoo, graduated from Kalamazoo Central High, opened his law practice on North Burdick Street and served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
But a problem became apparent after county administration talked to construction managers.
“All of the signage in that entire building has already been ordered and designed. All of it says, ‘Kalamazoo County Downtown Justice Center,'” county Administrator and Controller Kevin Catlin said.
That includes letterheads and signs on the inside. With the courthouse opening in December, County Commission Chair John Taylor says the request should’ve come months ago.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. I do wish it had been brought to our attention much earlier. That could’ve, would’ve been a much easier decision,” he explained.
While Taylor said the county has contingency funds from the courthouse project, cost is also a concern. The majority of commissioners decided to have administration look into price quotes on different options to honor Pratt at the courthouse in some way, ranging from a plaque or public art piece to a complete renaming.
“I think the concept of doing something for the late judge is there by this county commission,” Taylor said. “I think there is a majority of commissioners that want to do something to honor him. What that looks like is all going to depend on what those price tags come back.”
“I think that it’ll build some sense of community that Black folks in this area can feel proud and a level of respect can be gained, especially in our downtown area,” District 3 Commissioner Monteze Morales said.
“Let’s create a space within the grounds to really lift up his legacy and connect this community to their center for justice,” District 2 Commissioner Jen Strebs added.
Not everyone is on board. District 6 Commissioner John Gisler alluded to the city of Kalamazoo’s decision to change the name of Mayors Riverfront Park from Annen Park to honor all mayors, not just Ed Annen Jr.
“I certainly don’t think we ought to spend a lot of money dedicating it to one person by naming the whole thing,” he said.
District 9 Commissioner Dale DeLeeuw added, “Of course, (Pratt) is certainly an admirable individual. But I think there is probably more than one judge that comes to mind. I mean, how do you pick?”
Taylor says whatever decision is reached will not affect the timeline of the downtown justice center’s opening, which is still scheduled for December. He anticipated a plan would be introduced as early as the next commission meeting on Oct. 3.