Get up offa that name thing

Group withdraws petition to change soulful bridge title

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— Get on up, fans of the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge -- it's time to feel good.

A group in favor of changing the bridge's name to Stockbridge to better reflect the ranching heritage of Steamboat Springs withdrew its petition to the City Council on Thursday. The group instead will propose a plan to create a heritage-themed city park near the Stock Bridge Transit Center.

"We will still have a James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge," City Clerk Julie Jordan said. "(The group) would like to leave that bridge as is. At this time, the City Council needs to take no action."

Bill Montag, a primary circulator of the petitions supporting a name change, said the issue should not be divisive.

"Let James Brown have his bridge over there, and we'll have ours over here," he said, referring to the footbridge near the transit center west of downtown. "Instead of tearing the town apart, it makes so much sense to work together -- I think that's the way our town should work."

Montag, manager of Soda Creek Western Mercantile, said more than 400 people signed the petitions, showing a significant local interest in Steamboat's Western culture and history.

Tourists are interested, as well, he said.

"A park would be ideal. I get thousands of people in the store every year who say, 'Where can I see some Western heritage?'" Montag said. "People ride their bikes up there, they walk up there, they see (the area). This would be a great opportunity to talk about Western heritage."

A park could contain memorabilia such as statues of livestock, Montag said.

The group's decision to withdraw its petition ends another chapter in the saga of the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge.

In 1993, the city conducted an opinion poll to name the bridge that crosses the Yampa River on Shield Drive near 13th Street (Twentymile Road). More than 26,300 people responded to the poll; 7,717 of them voted for the James Brown name. The No. 2 choice was Stockbridge, which received 7,459 votes. The city's population of full-time residents has never approached the 26,300 ballots that were cast.

James Brown visited Steam--boat to dedicate the bridge. The night before his arrival more than 10 years ago, a racial epithet was painted on the bridge and subsequently removed by law officers in the early morning.

The bridge's name created more local discussion in January 2004, when Brown was arrested on domestic violence charges on suspicion of pushing his wife to the floor during an argument.

The issue most recently resurfaced during the fall, when a group of ranchers visited a City Council meeting to promote the Stockbridge name as a way to support cultural heritage. At meetings in January, the council discussed the issue and tabled a resolution to rename the bridge.

"I would not be in favor of doing this without notifying the public and hearing more input," council member Loui Antonucci said at the time.

The issue would have been considered at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

"City Council could have referred the name change to the ballot in November," Jordan said. Buying space on the ballot for a name-change item, she added, would have cost city taxpayers as much as $7,000.

"But now it's a moot point," Jordan said, before making a joke about possible cattle statues in a heritage park.

"Maybe I should call it a moo point," she said.

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