This post has been updated.
The Louisville Regional Airport Authority board will honor the city’s greatest son, as well as benefit from his name recognition, by renaming the airport, the Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.
Following Ali’s passing in 2016, a question arose, said Jim Welch, chair of the airport authority board. “Is there a way we can both honor Ali and benefit from the extraordinary awareness and popularity of this figure?”
Around the same time, a petition was started to push for the renaming of the airport and changing of its three-letter airport code to ALI.
In 2017, the airport authority formed a committee to assess the logistics of changing the airport’s name, the potential impact and public perception.
Dale Boden, chair of that committee, told his fellow authority board members Wednesday afternoon that “Ali’s profile is much more recognizable than Louisville.” People know about Ali, the boxer, activist and humanitarian, but don’t know about Louisville or that he was born here.
Because of his prominence and ties to the city, the authority board voted unanimously Wednesday to move forward with the name change, though the three-letter code will remain SDF. Altering the code would be a significantly tougher task; SDF comes from the airport’s original name, Standiford Field, after businessman Dr. Elisha David Standiford who owned part of the land the airport was built on.
“I think it is time for us as a city to further champion the champ’s legacy,” Mayor Greg Fischer said before the vote.
The next step toward officially becoming Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport is to finalize an agreement with Muhammad Ali Enterprises for naming rights and how Ali’s name and likeness can be used. The agreement will have no fees attached, according to airport officials.
“I am happy that visitors from far and wide who travel to Louisville will have another touch point to Muhammad and be reminded of his open and inclusive nature, which is reflective of our city,” Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali, said in a news release. “Muhammad was a global citizen, but he never forgot the city that gave him his start. It is a fitting testament to his legacy.”
The airport also plans to invest $100,000 in rebranding and messaging related to the name change. The change is expected to be complete by June.
“Ultimately, we want to drive more awareness,” said Dan Mann, executive director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority.
Fischer stated that Louisville Metro Government will be searching for its own new way to pay homage to Ali, including a possible trail of historical markers or a boxing academy to help shape youths. It is part of a Lean Into Louisville initiative expected to be announced Friday that will include a series of conversations, presentations, activities and art exhibits “to confront the history and legacy of all forms of discrimination and inequality,” according to the release.