Streets named ‘Calhoun’ could soon be history

The Park Board is likely to change the name of West Calhoun Parkway and other roads under its control that bear the name "Calhoun." Photo by Zac Farber

In less than two months, streets named “Calhoun” could become history around the lake.

A committee vote scheduled to take place at the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting May 15 would, if approved, start a process to rename roadways around Bde Maka Ska.

The changes would come to four streets controlled by the MPRB: Calhoun Boulevard West, Calhoun Drive, East Lake Calhoun Parkway and West Lake Calhoun Parkway. “Bde Maka Ska” would replace “Lake Calhoun” or “Calhoun” in each street’s name.

Should the committee approve the resolution, a 45-day public comment period will take place, followed by a public hearing to be held on or before Aug. 7. After the public hearing, the name changes could be approved by a six-commissioner majority, per an ordinance passed in April.

A petition opposing the name change of the parkways and lake was submitted to the Park Board in advance of the meeting by Tom Austin, a leader of the group “Save Lake Calhoun.” The petition has signatures of more than 300 residents who live on or near East and West Lake Calhoun Parkway. The signatures were gathered in the summer of 2017.

Commissioner Londel French (At Large), who sits on the Administration and Finance Committee that is voting on the resolution, said he appreciates the input from people who live around the lake but believes that all voices in the city should be listened to equally on the decision.

“The lakes belong to everybody,” he said.

The commissioners who were elected in 2017 were voted in by people who wanted a progressive Park Board, French said, and changing the name of the parkways to no longer honor John C. Calhoun, a former vice president from South Carolina who was a proponent of slavery and the Indian Removal Act is “a no-brainer.”

“John C. Calhoun was not a nice guy, you know, it’s really simple,” he said.

When the Park Board passed an ordinance in April giving it the power to change the name of the parkways with a six-commissioner majority, Commissioner Meg Forney (At Large) proposed an amendment that would have required the MPRB to mirror the city of Minneapolis processes of public engagement for street name changes. That amendment failed and Forney fears the name change will happen without robust engagement.

“That is to me what is sorely missing in this,” she said.

While the Park Board has been discussing the name of the parkways in recent months, French and Forney both said the ruling by the state Court of Appeals in late April that the Department of Natural Resources lacked the legal authority to rename the lake in 2018 “absolutely” accelerated the parkway renaming process.

Forney, who voted in favor of restoring the name of the lake to Bde Maka Ska in 2017 and adding dual name signage in 2015, believes more public engagement could be an educational opportunity and the current process is too reactionary and fast.

“This action is not transformative,” she said.

The resolution calls for MPRB staff to give at least 10 days notice of the public hearing to neighborhood associations and households within three blocks of roads scheduled for renaming.

The committee is also voting on a measure Wednesday to suspend its typical naming procedures to rename the portion of the Chain of Lakes Regional Park known as Lake Calhoun Park to Bde Maka Ska Park. The parkland around the lake does not bear any signage recognizing it as Lake Calhoun Park, but it was officially given that name before becoming part of the regional park. MPRB spokesperson Dawn Summers said the move is designed to formally unify the properties around the lake under the name Bde Maka Ska.

Typical renaming processes for parks follow a long procedure of public engagement, two public hearings and the notifications of all neighborhood associations abutting the park.