Government & Politics

Latest attempt to rename The Paseo for MLK dropped amid park board, mayor objections

Heeding objections from Mayor Sly James and the Kansas City Park Board, City Councilman Scott Taylor on Thursday stripped his East Side economic development proposal of a provision to rename The Paseo for Dr. Martin Luther King.

The Paseo measure was an unexpected, last-minute amendment to Taylor’s “Revive the East Side” plan, which calls for new spending and tax incentives to catalyze growth in some of the city’s most impoverished census tracts. The addition was made last week by City Councilman Quinton Lucas just before the plan was approved by the council’s planning and zoning committee.

The economic package was on the council’s agenda for final passage Thursday, but was held for two weeks at Taylor’s request.

Dropping the renaming into the depths of a largely unrelated 20-section ordinance drew several objections this week. Critics said it essentially discarded the work of a mayoral advisory committee that listed two options ahead of The Paseo after hours of public hearings and deliberation this spring: Kansas City International Airport and 63rd Street.

In an email to council members Wednesday, the park board protested “the placement of this crucial decision in an ordinance that is so broad in scope.”

“The intent and effort of this advisory committee should be taken into consideration,” board members said.

The board, responsible for upkeep of The Paseo as part of the city’s boulevard system, has never been favorable to the change. Last March, just before the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, it rejected a proposal from East Side ministers to rename the street.

James, who sent the three advisory group recommendations to the council in an August resolution, questioned Taylor and Lucas about the wisdom of attaching The Paseo proposal to the East Side bill.

“I don’t understand why the two of them are combined,” James said at the council’s weekly Thursday business session. “On the state level, people might say it’s logrolling.”

Taylor and Lucas are among the six council incumbents running for mayor in the April 2 non-partisan primary.

When Taylor introduced his East Side package late last year, Lucas called it a cynical attempt by a white candidate to curry favor on the predominantly African-American East Side. But Lucas, who is African American, is now a supporter of the plan.

Taylor and Lucas said The Paseo’s inclusion was justified because the ordinance already contained language calling for creation of historic markers or kiosks along the boulevard if it was ever renamed for King.

Lucas said it was an also an effort to re-energize the King issue, which has languished since James sent it to the council.

“The MLK conversation has been around for a little while,” he said. “There was a citizens committee, we got a resolution, and there have been kind of tumbleweeds coming by.”

On the council floor Thursday, Taylor removed The Paseo provision and asked that it be sent to the Planning and Zoning Committee for a hearing next week, along with the advisory group’s other recommendations.

The East Side measure tasks City Manager Troy Schulte with finding $10 million to create a home improvement fund for repair and rehabilitation, and $3 million to preserve or reconstruct certain dangerous buildings. It would offer a tax credit for employers who hire within a designated “investment zone,” with a focus on employing veterans, ex-offenders and those on public assistance.

Taylor’s ordinance also proposes freezing property taxes for long-time residents to ward off gentrification. An east side development “concierge” would be designated to streamline regulatory approvals for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, chairman of the council’s finance and governance committee and a mayoral candidate, said he planned to vote “no” when the ordinance returned to the council because lack of funds made it an empty promise. He said Schulte, who did not attend Thursday’s meetings, told him the only source of money was the city’s general tax fund, which is facing pressures from pension obligations and other needs.

“I’m going to be the good old finance chairman and say we can’t afford it,” Wagner said.

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