JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For most Jacksonville natives, the highway that runs through the city and past an orange Tyrannosaurus rex on its way to the ocean has always been known as Beach Boulevard.
But if a petition succeeds, that name could go the way of the dinosaur.
The weeks-old petition proposes to rename the road John the Baptist Boulevard after the preacher and religious figure revered by followers of the Christian and Islamic faiths.
The petition’s founders, waste disposal executive John Arwood and developer Toney Sleiman, said the idea has nothing to do with recent efforts in Jacksonville and across the country to rename schools and parks named after slave owners. Rather, they said, it’s a way to honor a man viewed as both a healer and martyr.
“We wanted a road, a major road that wasn’t named after somebody already that led to a body of water,” said Arwood, president of Arwood Site Services. “There was no other road that we felt was better than Beach Boulevard.”
That body of water Arwood mentioned, of course, is the Atlantic Ocean. He said people often visit the ocean to get baptized, a rite of passage for young and newly converted Christians.
“I remember in catechism they would talk about John the Baptist and how great he was and how he baptized people and people came to him from all over the world,” said Sleiman, the former owner of the Jacksonville Landing.
Arwood and Sleiman launched the change.org petition as part of an effort to convince state lawmakers to change the highway’s longtime name. So far, they’ve collected a little more than 200 signatures.
The response took both men by surprise.
“I thought it was impactful that so many people in such a short amount of time found this and started signing it,” Arwood said.
Added Sleiman: “We did not expect it but we did get a lot of people notifying us and stuff, so it was good.”
Both believe the petition gained traction through word of mouth. Now, they’re hopeful their efforts will lead to a name change that carries a message of healing and hope.
They said once their petition secures enough signatures, they’ll present the proposal to lawmakers.