Opponents start petition to halt Paseo name change to MLK Jr. Boulevard

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Renaming The Paseo for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to cause controversy in the community.

"It's the fact that the city didn't follow the original ordinance," said Bryon Johnmeyer, a Paseo property owner. "It's not the naming of the name itself. It's the ordinance that was in place."

Workers posted the first sign Monday renaming The Paseo in honor of King, but some say the new sign might not stay up very long.

That's because five Paseo property owners currently are drawing up a petition at City Hall to seek a vote on the change.

"This should not divide our community," said Councilman Jermaine Reed, who pushed to designate the boulevard in memory of King.

African-American leaders said it's taken 30 years to honor the slain civil rights leader with a street named after him. Pastors and politicians settled on The Paseo as a beautiful boulevard worthy of King's name.

"I think Paseo is like Ward Parkway," said Bishop Mark Tolbert of Victorious Life Church, located at 34th Street and The Paseo. "So what Ward Parkway is to southwest Kansas City, Paseo is that to the urban core. So I've been to meeting, after meeting, after meeting, where we've been turned down. But we never stopped because we wanted a great street to be named after a great man."

The winners in this political fight said they now want King's tribute to promote healing within the community.

But people like Johnmeyer are continuing to fight the name change.

"They did whatever they wanted to do because that's what they wanted," Johnmeyer said.

Petitioners claim that the city council circumvented an ordinance requiring property owners' approval, when the governing body declared that The Paseo would become Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"The city people don't realize that the people's choice. The people's right to speak has been taken away by this special ordinance they put through that allowed them to get around the original ordinance that said the property owners had a right to say yes or no," Johnmeyer said.

He and four other Paseo property owners have a petition under review by the city attorney. After the language is approved, the group plans to gather enough signatures to halt the name change and force a vote among those on The Paseo.

"It's not about a racial thing," said Johnmeyer, who owns two buildings on The Paseo. "It's not a dividing line. It's not a racial thing. The thing of it is, it's the way they did the process. That's what the city property owners and all of us who live on The Paseo, that's what we are upset about. It's the fact of the way they did the process."

In the meantime, Reed said more than 200 Martin Luther King Boulevard signs will be installed by city workers during the next 90 days.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who helped select The Paseo as a tribute to King, was not at Monday's renaming ceremony. His office tells FOX4 that Cleaver is organizing an April event to promote unity among all the stakeholders affected by the street name change.

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