February 28, 2014

Eisenhower Airport name may become official Tuesday

Wichita’s airport will bear former President Eisenhower’s name if the City Council agrees on Tuesday.

Wichita’s airport will bear former President Eisenhower’s name if the City Council agrees on Tuesday.

Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport will become the new name of Mid-Continent Airport if the council endorses a recommendation from the city’s airport naming advisory committee. The group voted 6-1 in favor of the change, according to airport records.

Wichita radio personality Jan Harrison, who co-founded the Eisenhower name drive at 104.5 The Fox, said she was elated by the council and public support.

“When Phil Thompson and I started this campaign, we thought it had a chance because it made so much sense,” Harrison said. “I am grateful the City Council had the same vision.”

The campaign’s success is due to a groundswell of public support, she said, including former Sen. Bob Dole.

Eisenhower, who was from Abilene, served as supreme commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and served as president from 1953 to 1961.

Historian David Nichols of Winfield, who consulted with Harrison’s group, said he believes Eisenhower is the nation’s greatest post-war president.

“His advocacy for air power, tied to McConnell Air Force Base and aircraft production, links his legacy to Wichita. Ike not only won the war in Europe; he kept the peace as president. Soldiers did not die in combat in the Eisenhower years. He is our most exceptional native son. Ike never forgot where he came from; neither should we,” Nichols said.

Critics of the plan, including members of the airport advisory board, say that connection isn’t strong enough to warrant using Eisenhower’s name.

“The thing I object to is how this thing was rammed down our throats,” said John Hennessey, one of the airport advisory board members who opposed the idea. “They really had to reach deep to find a direct impact on Wichita that Eisenhower had.

“I’m not saying anyone on the board was against Eisenhower. I just think there are a lot of people out there who’ve had a greater direct impact on Wichita.”

Council member Jeff Blubaugh agreed.

“I still have a lot of questions,” he said. “There’s no doubt Eisenhower did a ton for Kansas, for the United States, for the free world. But I’m still trying to identify the factors related to Wichita, and I still have issues about the cost.”

Blubaugh said most of his constituents appear to oppose the change “because of the cost, and a bunch of them like the Mid-Continent name anyway.”

Criticis of the name change also contend that younger people don’t associate Eisenhower with Kansas, council member James Clendenin said.

“Well, isn’t that the point of the change?” he said.

Tuesday’s vote wraps up a four-month drive to rename the airport launched by Citizens for Eisenhower Airport. The group presented the council a petition supporting the name change Oct. 8; a month later, the council appointed an advisory committee to review the switch.

“I think that using the identity of General Eisenhower provides us recognizable branding, more so than the former name,” Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner said. “I don’t think there’s a sense of identity with the current name. It’s not a big deal all around, but I think it has the potential for a nice brand for the city.”

City officials think the out-of-pocket cost to the city for the name change would be $141,500, after the council-appointed naming committee determined that original estimate of almost $750,000 could be whittled to $276,850 in essential costs. The remainder would be paid by the airport itself.

“On a $110 million facility that is basically paid for with FAA funds over 50 years, and through ticket charges and user fees, I don’t think $140,000 is something I’m going to be stressed out about,” Meitzner said.

“I’m there as well,” Clendenin said. “Wichita is at a point where we’re turning a lot of corners in a positive way. When we look back, if the council goes ahead with this, I think we’re all going to be glad we did it.”

Meitzner said there’s reason for the council to move quickly for the name change.

“What if the Shockers win the national championship?” he asked, chuckling. “I don’t want to go through this again for ‘Gregg Marshall National Airport.’ ”

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