J.C. Nichols fountain at Mill Creek Park

By Abby Hoover

Two community engagement sessions have been scheduled by the Parks and Recreation Board to hear from residents on renaming the J.C. Nichols Fountain and J.C. Nichols Parkway.

A renewed effort to rename the fountain and parkway was brought forth by Parks Board Commissioner Chris Goode on June 9.

The fountain’s home, Mill Creek Park at J.C. Nichols Parkway and Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard on the Country Club Plaza, has been the site of protests during the past three weeks over the death of George Floyd, who died after being forcefully detained by Minneapolis officers.

“Having seen our beloved Mill Creek Park become the backdrop for the reactionary protests and visual displays of pain and frustration, I, as a Parks and Rec Commissioner, find myself compelled to act,” Goode wrote.

Jesse Clyde Nichols developed neighborhoods in the early 1900s with covenants designed to effectively keep black Kansas Citians out of certain neighborhoods.

“No person accelerated white flight, redlining, and racial division in the Kansas City area more than J.C. Nichols,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said in a statement. “The time has long passed that we remove Kansas City’s memorials to his name. I fully support Commissioner Goode’s efforts to rename J.C. Nichols Fountain and Parkway.”

Goode said these protests illustrated the need for these steps, and that it was time to end the acceptance of “racial inequalities created by J.C. Nichols.”

“His accumulation of wealth, in part by the creation of some of our city’s most treasured real estate including the country club plaza, serves as a very painful truth in our city’s history,” Goode wrote. “The fountain named in his honor, as well as the adjoining parkway allow racism to take center stage in our most photographed, valued and visited destination in Kansas City. It says to the diverse tax payers of our community, along with visitors from throughout the country in very obvious terms; racism is a norm we are not ready to truly eradicate.”

Goode proposed the parkway be renamed for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the fountain be renamed the Dream Fountain.

This is not the first time a street by this name has been considered. In 2017, the City Council voted to rename The Paseo, a 10-mile boulevard winding from Cliff Drive and Lexington Avenue on the bluffs above the Missouri River in the Pendleton Heights to 85th Street and Woodland Avenue, to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The name for Kansas City’s first major boulevard was suggested by the first president of the Parks Board, August Meyer. It was named for the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City.

After the vote, petitions to put the name change to a city-wide vote were submitted. A vote to return the name to The Paseo passed on Nov. 5, 2019.

Many street signs along The Paseo were replaced over the weeks following the council’s decision. Now, the city is working to re-install The Paseo signs.

Mayor Quinton Lucas provided an update from the Public Works Department’s sign crews on Thursday.

The continued sign change-out effort began June 6 after work was paused due to the pandemic and necessary staffing changes, according to the department.

“We went into a staff rotation during the stay-at-home order to limit staff in the field and promote social distancing,” according to the update. “With this change, staff was focused on safety-related maintenance activities like pothole patching and emergency repairs.”

Weather permitting, sign change-out work will be conducted over the next few Saturdays, which the department anticipates to be completed by the end of June. 

According to the department, since the same crews that install signs that also plow snow, public works waited until the snow season ended and weather warmed up to begin the process.

Parks and Recreation staff will work with the Board of Commissioners, which was appointed by Lucas, to ensure the process is fair and transparent, according to a press release from the department.

Two citizen engagement sessions will be scheduled within the next 30 days.

On June 18 at 6 p.m. the first session will be held at Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center, 3700 Blue Parkway.

According to the department space may be limited to adhere to current social distancing guidelines, and face coverings are recommended.

“Residents are encouraged to submit input via email prior to the meeting and to take advantage of the virtual meeting scheduled for June 24 if they feel they are at a higher risk of contracting a communicable infection,” a press release from Parks and Recreation said.

A second session will be held virtually on June 24 at 2 p.m., for which further details are still being decided. Residents can also email comments or questions to KCParksEngage@kcmo.org.

The next Parks Board meeting is Tuesday, June 30 at 2 p.m. The resolution to remove J.C. Nichols’ name from the fountain and parkway is anticipated to be heard then.

The Board of Commissioners will continue to gather input on choosing an appropriate name replacement until July 9, according to a press release from Parks and Recreation.