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Museum and Neighborhoods Reach Agreement on Master Plan

Nelson-Atkins, Rockhill Homes Association and Southmoreland Neighborhood Association Collaborate on Amended Plan for Future

Filed Documents

Approved Master Plan Master Plan Ordinance
Memorandum of Understanding

Kansas City, MO, May 3, 2017 – The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, in collaboration with the Rockhill and Southmoreland neighborhood associations, today filed an amendment to its request for a Master Planned Development, a framework for use of the museum’s properties to the north and east of the Nelson-Atkins. This amendment reflects the result of a joint effort to further enhance and protect the cultural, architectural and historic nature of the area. The negotiations, which represent a new model of institutional and neighborhood partnering, resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding and an agreement that was approved unanimously by all three boards.

Under the historic amended request, the museum would offer to sell the Kirkwood House east of the museum, along with ¾ of an acre. The house was built by William Rockhill Nelson for his daughter, Laura, and it was the former site of the Rockhill Tennis Club.  The remaining land of the Kirkwood Property may be converted to a sculpture park with new landscaping and walkways.

Under the agreement, the four houses north of the Nelson-Atkins on 45th Street would be preserved and used for museum offices. Ultimately, after additional office space is no longer required, the houses would be returned to residential properties.

The joint action signifies a new chapter in the relationship between the Nelson-Atkins and the Rockhill and Southmoreland neighborhood associations as they worked together for the long-term growth of the museum and the historic preservation of the neighborhoods.

“I am proud to see the new relationship that resulted from extensive negotiations between the Nelson-Atkins and the neighborhood associations,” said Shirley Bush Helzberg, Chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees. “Rather than continuing to escalate our differences, representatives from the Nelson-Atkins, Rockhill and Southmoreland found common ground and worked toward an agreement. I look forward to working together on these plans for the future.”

“Rockhill, Southmoreland and the Nelson-Atkins have achieved an important agreement that focuses on preserving and enhancing the historic assets of the neighborhoods while providing flexibility for the museum,” said Galen Mussman, president of the Rockhill Homes Association. “It bodes well for our future working relationship.”

The museum owns four houses north of the museum along 45th Street. One on the west end, Bishop’s House, is currently used for offices under a special use permit. Two are occupied by residential tenants, and one on the east end, the Feingold House, is vacant. Under a phased approach in the proposed MPD, the museum would convert the interior of the houses for use as administrative offices with a long term commitment to preservation. Ultimately they would be returned to residential use.

Laura Burkhalter, president of the Southmoreland Neighborhood Association, commented, “The homes on 45th Street are beautiful and the guarantee of their preservation into the future ensures the rich history of our neighborhood continues. We look forward to our continued work together with Rockhill and the Nelson-Atkins.”

To the east of the museum, along Rockhill Road, the museum owns the Kirkwood House and five acres, collectively referred to as the Kirkwood Property. Under the proposed MPD, the museum would sell the home and ¾ of an acre, returning the Kirkwood Home to a single-family residence. On the remaining acres, the museum would remove the existing fence and tennis courts and parking lot, and the land could become a sculpture park. The Nelson-Atkins would landscape and maintain the sculpture park.

“This agreement creates a balance between the growth of the museum and the overall character of the neighborhood,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins.  “With this in place, we can begin to envision what the future might hold for the Nelson-Atkins, within the parameters of the museum’s footprint.”

As part of the agreement, a Stewardship Committee would be created with representatives from the Rockhill and Southmoreland neighborhoods and the Nelson-Atkins. The Stewardship Committee would continue the working partnership between the neighborhoods and the museum. The committee would meet at least three times per year to review issues regarding the 45th Street properties and sculpture park. A member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation would serve as an advisor to the Stewardship Committee.

Barb Pahl, Vice President of the National Trust for Historical Preservation, said, “I commend the Nelson-Atkins, Rockhill Homes Association, and Southmoreland Neighborhood Association for working collaboratively to develop a plan that will allow for the museum’s needed expansion while ensuring the ongoing protection of these significant historic homes and the character of the neighborhood.  This plan and the process that went into its creation will be a model for other cities seeking to find a balance between the expansion needs of their beloved institutions and the protection of adjacent historic neighborhoods.”

For the Nelson-Atkins, the amendment filed with the City provides answers to the long-standing questions about the museum’s property. The Nelson-Atkins has explored a possible expansion to meet the growing needs for more office space, storage and galleries, but now the focus has shifted away from the Kirkwood Property as it will no longer be a site for the museum’s growth.

“Rockhill, Southmoreland, and the Nelson-Atkins worked well together as we resolved long-standing issues and established a new foundation for cooperation that unifies the parties,” said Bill Berkley, a member of the Rockhill Homes Association involved in the negotiations. “It provides the neighborhoods certainty about the future of the Kirkwood and 45th Street properties, and the Nelson-Atkins certainty as it plans its exciting future, which we support.”

“Reaching this agreement required that the right people be around the table rolling up our sleeves and continuing to meet until we had an answer to this complex situation,” said Greg Maday, who represented the Nelson Atkins as a member of the museum’s board of trustees. “I respect the concerns of our neighbors, and they rightfully protect these important areas of the city. It was a pleasure to work through this with them.”

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City is recognized nationally and internationally as one of America’s finest art museums. The museum, which strives to be the place where the power of art engages the spirit of the community, opens its doors free of charge to all visitors. The Nelson-Atkins serves the community by providing access to its renowned collection of nearly 40,000 art objects and is best known for its Asian art, European and American paintings, photography, modern sculpture, and the new American Indian and Egyptian galleries.

Rockhill Homes Association
The Rockhill neighborhood was developed by William Rockhill Nelson, the founder of The Kansas City Star and later, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  Mr. Nelson had an interest in urban development and believed that cities should be pleasant environments for its citizens. He was a proponent of the City Beautiful movement and when developing Rockhill maintained the natural beauty of the landscape, with open spaces, tree lined boulevards and natural stone walls. Mr. Nelson was committed to ensuring the future of the neighborhood that he created. His foresight has resulted in one of Kansas City’s most well preserved and historically significant neighborhoods in the region. Rockhill was the first neighborhood in Kansas City to be listed simultaneously on the National Register, the state’s list of Historic Sites and with the Kansas City Historical Society.

Southmoreland Neighborhood Association
The Southmoreland neighborhood is bordered by 39th Street on the north, Rockhill and Gillham Road on the east, Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard on the south, and Main Street on the west. The neighborhood was established in the late 19th Century when civic leaders moved south to build palatial homes in the Kansas City suburbs. Today the neighborhood is a walkable collection of homes, businesses, parks, historic properties, and cultural institutions in the heart of the city. Residences are an eclectic mix of Colonial Revival mansions, Arts and Crafts style cottages, and Colonnade apartment buildings, many with native limestone accents. The Southmoreland Neighborhood Association was formed in 1973.