Updated May 14, 2021 - 7:32 pm
Las Vegas officials are internally discussing a plan to rename a stretch of Washington Avenue in the city’s Historic Westside after former President Barack Obama.
Under the preliminary proposal being vetted inside City Hall, Washington Avenue between Decatur and Las Vegas boulevards would become Barack Obama Boulevard, according to emails obtained by the Review-Journal.
Councilman Cedric Crear, who is spearheading the renaming effort, said Thursday that the costs and effects of a renaming still needed to be worked out before the plan is ready to be presented to the public, although he promised a “very open discussion” with community members starting later this year.
“He will always be the first Black president. That will never change in the history of our country,” Crear said. “And that is a significant honor and a significant achievement, and that should be recognized in perpetuity.”
The proposal is a central piece to a broader street renaming campaign in his district, with plans to also potentially replace alphabet street names with those of prominent people who Crear said are appropriate for the district’s predominantly Black demographic.
Washington not the first choice
He described the Obama plan as being in the early stages, but emails show that talks have been ongoing inside the city since at least November 2019.
As late as February, city officials were discussing Lake Mead Boulevard as the potential target, between Rancho Drive and Losee Road — a stretch of road shared with North Las Vegas. But it became clear that North Las Vegas would not support that plan because it would conflict with its policy against renaming streets after living people, emails show.
Crear said Thursday that the roughly 4-mile stretch of Washington Avenue was chosen as an alternative because he wanted exit signs visible to freeway motorists. Interstate 15 crosses over the proposed stretch to be renamed.
Not a partisan issue?
Wherever the plan may lead, the call to memorialize Obama’s legacy is likely to be politically volatile if recent history is any indication. The Clark County Commission’s approval in February to rename McCarran International Airport after former Sen. Harry Reid, an Obama ally, presented a test case in how controversial and polarizing such moves can be.
Crear said he had not yet spoken to any of the three Republicans on the council to gauge whether they would support the renaming when, or if, it comes before city lawmakers. But he also reiterated that he will rely on the consensus from the constituents in his district.
“People will make everything a partisan issue, but it’s not,” he said, noting that historical figures are routinely recognized for their achievements including presidents such as George Washington, who is the current namesake of the street in question.
Councilwoman Victoria Seaman and Councilman Stavros Anthony, two of three Republicans on the nonpartisan council, confirmed Thursday that they were unaware of the discussions.
Seaman said she wondered how much a renaming would cost and suggested it is not a priority amid a pandemic. But still “I don’t shut the door on anything I don’t know anything about.”
Anthony said that he looked forward to having a “fruitful discussion” on the plan and he wanted to hear the reasons why the swap is being considered.
“My first thought is, why would we change a street that’s named after, I believe, our greatest president, George Washington, (and name it) after another president?” he said.
A top aide to Councilwoman Michele Fiore did not respond to an inquiry seeking Fiore’s comment.
Reid said to support, Munford backs plan
Crear’s office said Reid is on board with the proposal, according to emails, which also indicate that the councilman’s office was aware it should seek support from Nevada’s federal delegation as well.
Former Assemblyman Harvey Munford, who said he had met Obama more than a dozen times as their paths crisscrossed during Obama’s presidency, expressed strong support for a renaming to inspire Historic Westside residents.
“He gave them that energy, and that they could accomplish anything in life if they can rise from segregation, Jim Crow, lynching and all of that,” Munford said, noting how this was the historical backdrop in which Obama ascended to the presidency as a Black man — something Munford said he never thought was possible.
Early American presidents, who are the namesakes for several streets in Crear’s district, “do nothing for west Las Vegas,” Munford said.
More than 250 individual parcels would be affected by a name change, and $500,000 in capital improvement project funding has been requested to support initial work, according to city documents.
The renaming could be realized by next year, one document shows.
But even beyond fully determining total costs, funding sources and effects on businesses and initiating a public outreach process, there will be work to do.
The city Planning Department will need to submit a formal application. And then the proposal must be heard by the planning commission and City Council.
Crear said, to his knowledge, it would be the first street named after Obama in Nevada. He was also unconcerned that the newly named Barack Obama Boulevard would become sandwiched between Washington Avenue on both ends, saying it is not unusual in the city for the same street to change names.
Ultimately his push for the renaming is rooted in Obama’s precedent-setting turn as America’s first Black president.
“Whatever your political persuasions are, that will always be a fact, and I think that is a tremendous, tremendous feat that he accomplished,” Crear said.
A previous version of this story incorrectly reported which freeways Washington Avenue crosses.