Group recommends renaming airport to honor MLK

Posted at 10:56 PM, May 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 15:26:02-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An advisory group selected by the mayor voted Sunday in favor of naming the airport after Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Each of the eleven members of the committee a first choice worth two points and a second pick worth just one. In the end, renaming the airport garnered 15 points, followed by 63rd Street with 8 and Paseo Blvd. with 7 points.

MLK Advisory Group Co-Chair Roger C. Williams, Principal of Hickman Mills High School, said his conversations with community members, particularly young people, influenced his vote.

"The students felt that sent a very positive message throughout the world about Kansas City's admiration for a great man," Williams said. 

Several members of the committee met this week with middle and high school students involved with Generation Rap, a leadership program sponsored by Carter Broadcasting. The students' second choice was 63rd St. because it "touched all races," according to Williams.

In the end the committee decided to send both recommendations on to Mayor Sly James, with a clear emphasis that renaming the airport is the top pick.

Gordon Kauffman, who grew up in KCMO and attended nearly all of the MLK group's meetings, supports the decision. 

"The airport I think is easy, timely and very appropriate. Renaming a street is probably more complicated," he said.

But renaming the airport is also complicated. 

41 Action News obtained a draft of the letter Director of Aviation Patrick Klein penned for the MLK Advisory Committee and sent to Mayor Sly James on May 10.

In the letter Klein discusses issues the department has run into while trying to market the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. He also points out changes other cities have made to remove or shorten non-geographic words from their names. For example, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport rebranded in 2016 to St. Louis-Lambert Airport. 

In the closing paragraph, Klein wrote:

"As Kansas City considers many opportunities of how to properly honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I encourage you not to seek to rename Kansas City International Airport. Doing so would remove the airport’s critical geographic indicator, create confusion among the traveling public and would hinder the Aviation Department’s ability to effectively market Kansas City both nationally and internationally."

When reached on Sunday night, spokesman Joe McBride said the Aviation Department had not been officially notified of the committee's recommendations, but hopes more conversations will follow. 

"The Department looks forward to the opportunity to be engaged in a public discussion about the pros and cons of naming the new terminal versus the renaming of Kansas City International," McBride wrote. 

The Paseo was noticeably missing from the top two slots, although Rev. Modest Miles, Rev. Rodney Williams, Wesley Fields and Rev. Bob Hill all listed the boulevard as one of their two choices.

Fields is the Board Chairman for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Kansas City, which has its own initiative to rename The Paseo for MLK. President Reverend Dr. Vernon Percy Howard, Jr., said Sunday the advisory group's vote has no impact on the SCLC's efforts.

Both Councilman Quinton Lucas and Mayor James emphasized the need to examine that initiative further.

What exactly happens with the MLK Advisory Group's recommendations is not clear at this time, but the Mayor's Communications Director said city staff members and lawyers will weigh in on that on Monday.

"To have the whole community engaged in this and to make their preferences known so we do something people can buy into and own, that's what it was all about," Mayor James said after the vote.

Mayor James and the MLK Advisory Committee will hold a news conference Monday at 3:30 p.m. at the Kansas City Public Library's Plaza Branch.