Voters will decide fate of MLK Blvd. in November after petition to restore Paseo name

Less than five months after renaming The Paseo for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. , the Kansas City Council approved an initiative petition Thursday that will allow voters in November to decide if they want the old name back.

The unanimous vote was a strictly procedural move, acknowledging that a committee of petitioners had collected well over the approximately 1,700 signatures required to place the question on the ballot. If “yes” votes prevail, the historic boulevard will revert to its former name. If the city votes no, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. signs already installed along the street will remain.

The council voted 8-4 in January to rename The Paseo, which runs for nearly 10 miles through the heart of the city’s East Side, to honor King, the late civil rights leader. The decision seemed to draw to a close more than a year of community debate that included consideration of other streets and even the new terminal under construction at Kansas City International Airport.

But frustration from residents who felt they had been ignored — many of whom wanted to see the history of The Paseo preserved — spurred a petition drive to reverse the council vote.

Diane Euston, a Waldo resident, historian and teacher, is among the organizers in the Save the Paseo movement. She said the council vote was a huge step.

“We are so thrilled that Kansas City’s voice was finally heard and that the whole city will have a chance to decide the future of The Paseo/Martin Luther King Blvd.,” Euston said.

There was little discussion among council members prior to the vote, but Councilwoman Alissia Canady, 5th District, commended the Save The Paseo group. She voted against the original name change, in part, because of lack of support from residents.

“It was very clear from the onset of this that there was not buy-in from the stakeholders along Paseo,” Canady said.

Euston said Canady and been “invaluable” to their group and appreciated her comments about the lack of community support.

Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, a candidate for mayor and one of the chief council proponents of the original renaming, said he respected the efforts of the petitioners and looked forward to a conversation about how to honor King.

“If they change the street name, then I hope we fairly quickly get back to coming up with a manner in which we can honor Dr. King’s service and sacrifice to our country,” Lucas said.

Lucas said the city should hold off on formalizing the renaming with the U.S. Postal Service–requiring that citizens file change address documents–until after the November election.

The idea of renaming The Paseo to honor King had been under informal discussion for years. The issue gained new momentum when the city’s Board of Parks and Recreation, which oversees the city’s boulevards, rebuffed a proposal from two East Side ministers.

The ministers, led by the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, began collecting signatures to put the question on the August or November 2018 ballot. At the same time, Mayor Sly James formed a citizens commission to hold public hearings and make recommendations on sites that could be named for King.

Based on feedback from residents, the panel favored the new single-terminal Kansas City International Airport. As second and third options, it recommended 63rd Street — an east-west thoroughfare that cuts through majority-white neighborhoods before crossing Troost Avenue, the city’s historic racial dividing line — and The Paseo.

James passed the recommendations on to the council.

After the SCLC failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, Lucas attached an amendment renaming The Paseo to a “Revive the East Side” ordinance sponsored by Councilman Scott Taylor, 6th District at-large. But it was stripped out before passage.

Eventually, the council passed it as a stand-alone issue in January.

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.