Louisville native Muhammad Ali’s name will now welcome visitors who fly into the city.
The Louisville Regional Airport Authority voted Wednesday to rename the Louisville International Airport in honor of Ali. They also voted to commit $100,000 towards changing airport branding and messaging, though the airport’s three-letter location identifier — SDF —will not change.
Airport Authority Board Member Dale Boden said a board working group researched what effects a name-change might have, and discovered that Ali’s name is more positive and recognizable than Louisville itself. There are a final steps to the change, such as notifying the Federal Aviation Administration and finalizing a financial agreement with Muhammad Ali Enterprises. But Airport Authority Executive Director Dan Mann said notifying the FAA will be routine, and expects the agreement with Muhammad Ali Enterprises will be finalized within weeks.
In a news release, Lonnie Ali, Muhammad Ali’s widow, said the decision is “a fitting testament to his legacy.” After the LRAA vote, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the city was lucky to have Ali as one of its citizens.
“Over a billion people tuned in to watch his memorial service,” Fischer said. “So for us not to continue to champion Muhammad’s legacy and what he stood for, I think, is disrespectful to him and [a] squandering opportunity for him and for our city as well.”
LRAA Board Member Nikki R. Jackson said the decision to honor Ali in this way is especially important to her as a black woman.
“I’m always looking for opportunities for people who look like me to be validated and exalted and celebrated. [It] doesn’t happen a whole lot,” Jackson said. “It definitely indicates who we are — our values, our core — as a city.”
Board members expect the bulk of rebranding and signage changes at the airport won’t take place until June — during the “I Am Ali” festival.