Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport becomes Dwight D. Eisenhower National with council’s backing

Mid-Continent Airport terminal. (Nov.4, 2013)
Mid-Continent Airport terminal. (Nov.4, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

An earlier version of this story misstated some remarks by Richard Harris and omitted his statement that he believes negative portrayals of Wichita are wrong. Also, Harris disputes the original article’s characterization that he “stomped” out of the meeting.

Wichita’s airport is now Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.

The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 to change the airport’s name to honor the former president, but not without some disagreements – with council members Jeff Blubaugh and Jeff Longwell, and with the public.

Blubaugh and Longwell sought a delay to take the issue to the city’s district advisory boards for more input and to allow Wichita State University to study the potential economic impact of a name change.

Blubaugh offered a motion to delay a decision before Mayor Carl Brewer made a motion to approve the change. The mayor never called for a vote on the motion to delay.

Members of the public voiced varied opposition, from the $140,000 estimated cost to the city to a claim that putting Eisenhower’s name on the airport would dishonor him because Wichita is perceived as “backwoods” across the nation.

In the end, the pro-Ike crowd won the day. The vote triggers the renaming process. It could be summer before the FAA changes the name on licensing and other federal documents.

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

“We can’t take away the fact that President Eisenhower was one of the finest presidents who addressed a lot of issues during difficult times, from wars to civil rights,” Mayor Carl Brewer said.

Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Susan Eisenhower, called the council’s decision a “wonderful honor.”

“We’re very pleased by the news,” she said.

Susan Eisenhower said her grandfather was “very interested in airplanes and flying.

“He had his own pilot’s license. He flew regularly,” she said. “He had a big role to play in the establishment of the Air Force Academy. Even though he was an Army guy, flying and aircraft were very important to him.”

So was Kansas, she said.

“I remember his words, ‘I come from the heartland of America,’” she said. “The state of Kansas was tremendously important to him.”

Jan Harrison, a Wichita radio personality who co-founded the petition drive to rename the airport, said the vote was a “victory for the people of Wichita and for the people of Kansas.”

But others didn’t agree. Wichitan Richard Harris, who identified himself as a marketing professional, delivered a pointed critique, saying Wichita is portrayed as “backwoods and backwards” and that putting Eisenhower’s name on the airport would dishonor the former president.

“Wichita is the butt of jokes with Hollywood scriptwriters,” he told the council during the meeting. “Saddling Eisenhower with Wichita’s airport name” will only undermine his respect around the world.

He said that he believed those depictions were wrong, but added that is how the city is portrayed nationally.

Harris clearly angered council member James Clendenin, who said the anti-Wichita remarks “stirred in my heart.”

“Wichita is an amazing city. We need to act amazing, no matter the misperceptions some may have about us,” Clendenin said.

Harrison dismissed the claim that the name change dishonors Eisenhower, calling it “repugnant.”

“I can’t think of any way this isn’t an honor for Eisenhower, and a tremendous benefit to our city at the same time,” she said.

Council member Janet Miller joined Clendenin.

“It is an opportunity to have a bigger vision of ourselves in Wichita,” she said.

Cost was a factor cited by several in opposition – as was the city’s favorite moniker, the Air Capital of the World. Several favored using the Air Capital branding rather than Eisenhower.

Vice Mayor Pete Meitzner called the original $750,000 estimate to change the airport’s name “absolutely irresponsible” before the meeting. The council-appointed naming committee determined that original estimate could be whittled to $276,850 in essential costs, with $141,500 being paid by the city.

Meitzner had a point to make: Many of the rebranding costs associated with the new $110 million airport terminal, such as signs, would have to incurred regardless of the facility’s name.

Meitzner said he isn’t stressed about a price tag for the name change

“Now, 30,000 jobs lost here since 2008 and water, those are things I am stressed about,” he said. “But to throw out $140,000 in costs, which I still think is woefully high, then using costs as a reason (to oppose the name change) is not valid.”

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