KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City, Missouri, voters overwhelmingly decided to restore The Paseo name to one of the city's most recognizable roadways Tuesday, rebuking the City Council's decision in January to name the street after civil rights icon Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As a result, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will revert to Paseo Boulevard, barely nine months after the council voted 8-4 to rename the street. The voters' decision to undo the change, which won with nearly 70% of the vote, capped more than a year of contentious debate between both sides.
The Save the Paseo group, which collected enough signatures to put the issue on Tuesday's ballot, argued that the city had not gone about the process in the right way. Many said they agreed with naming a street after the civil rights leader but felt "The Paseo," which has historical significance in the city, was not the right street to rename.
Outside of Kansas City, reaction to the decision was mixed, with many national media outlets reporting that voters had “decided to remove” King's name from the historic boulevard.
Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approv removing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s name from one of the city's most historic boulevards, less than a year after the city council decided to rename The Paseo for the civil rights icon. https://t.co/wHLFpGNmFX— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 6, 2019
Some Kansas Citians reacted to the national stories, saying the headlines didn’t capture the context and nuance of the voters' decision.
Kansas City had an MLK Blvd for 9 months, but voters decided today to remove the civil rights icon’s name and change the street back to its old name. And contrary to what you might think, many black residents are happy about it. Read this to learn why. https://t.co/eX4IDC9xDl— John Eligon (@jeligon) November 6, 2019
On Wednesday, the naming rights of the boulevard were a hot topic at 180V Barber Salon in the city's 18th and Vine District.
"I think Kansas City’s voice was heard,” salon owner Joey Thomas said. "Now that the Martin Luther King name is removed, what do we do with it now? Do we just let his legacy die?”
Thomas admits he’s impartial on the vote but thinks the public should have been involved earlier.
"I would hope that now these individuals would come together and have a conversation with those that were for it and those that were opposed to it and see what will be the next direction,” Thomas said.
Mayor Quinton Lucas, who as a councilman voted in favor of changing the name, told 41 Action News on Wednesday morning the process “could have been handled better.”
“I think what we heard from the community was that folks were saying they weren’t engaged in the way they would have liked,” Lucas said. “So, whatever it is that we decided can’t just be 13 people at City Hall saying this is going to be the new plan, whether it be an airport, whether it be 63rd Street, whether it be anything under the sun.”
Both the new terminal at Kansas City International Airport and 63rd Street were previously recommended as options for honoring King by a committee tasked with studying the issue.
Kansas City has a park named after King located at Woodland Avenue and Swope Parkway, but city leaders had argued KC was the only major metropolitan area in the country without a street named for the slain civil rights leader.
After Tuesday's vote, one urban designer hopes to give the park new life by transforming it into a space that will honor King.
"He would love to see more investment in this, something that brings people together, something where people feel safe, where they can hang out with their friends and strangers as well, some place that can be active,” said DuRon Nutsell with Midtown Design Development and Construction in Kansas City.
The plan calls for a civil rights monument, several ball courts, nature areas and a public speaking area.
"We noticed that very few people knew about this park and we understand why, because it’s not very utilized,” Nutsell said.
For now, the city will begin the process of restoring the old Paseo Boulevard signs, which are being stored at a KC Parks and Recreation Department warehouse.
Maggie Green, a spokeswoman for the KCMO Public Works Department, told 41 Action News on Tuesday night that the vote will need to be officially certified by local election boards before the city takes action to change the signs back. The certification process will take a few weeks, she said, and then it depends on the availability of crews and weather.
The crews that change out signs also handle snow plowing and other signage maintenance, which will affect the timeline, Green said.
The city previously estimated that it cost $60,000 to change the signs to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which included labor and materials. Officials said it would cost around $40,000 to put back the old signs.
The city will save the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard signs after removing them, according to the mayor.
Lucas said if the city decides to choose another street to name after King, leaders will “engage with all of the homeowners along that street” and have “a long conversation” with residents.
“I look forward to being a little more creative with this and seeing what other ideas may exist for us to look at the Martin Luther King Jr. name and, frankly, looking at other leaders that we need to honor in Kansas City,” Lucas told 41 Action News. “I see that as an opportunity. Sometimes, you wish you didn’t have to go through the whole process, but you learn a lot of life, and that’s what we have the chance to do from this experience.”
Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw said Wednesday that it will be important for the council to create a consensus before taking another vote on the issue.
"Definitely keeping the community engaged is important, making sure that everyone’s voice can be heard, as many as possible can be heard,” she said.