Waterloo approves Martin Luther King Jr. memorial

WATERLOO – The city of Waterloo is moving forward with a memorial honoring Martin Luther King Jr. despite criticism about its location.

The Waterloo City Council on Monday voted 4-3 in favor of building a “peace walk” at Washington Park in the downtown area. A nonprofit group plans to raise $2.8 million to build the walkway and monuments, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported.

The memorial’s location has been a contentious issue for years. Supporters said the memorial’s location will attract tourism and nearby development. Opponents said it would detract from the park’s historic nature and namesake, President George Washington.

“I think it should be located elsewhere so it doesn’t overshadow the park as it is,” said Ann Olsson, former chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The council denied a similar proposal nearly two years ago. Council member Bob Greenwood voted against that proposal, but switched his vote this time.

“I’m in favor of the location,” Greenwood said Monday. “I really do think it’s fitting to overlay it in Washington Park.”

The memorial will commemorate King and his 1959 visit to Waterloo. The newspaper reported he spent time at Washington Park with Anne Mae Weems, a civil rights leader who invited King to visit the city.

Mary Potter, current chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said she wants all sides to seek compromise.

“I think that Martin Luther King would have absolutely abhorred the direction this project has taken,” she said. “We have been at odds since 2008 and it’s time we come together and work this out amicably.”

The nonprofit group, Cedar Valley Civil Rights Peace Walk, has been working to get city approval for the location since 2009 and will raise the money privately.

The plan requires the project to start by April 1, 2019, and be near completion by Dec. 31, 2020. It also requires an endowment fund for maintenance costs.