Kansas City's Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art And Neighbors Reconcile Differences

May 3, 2017

The Kirkwood House and 3/4 of an acre of the property will be offered for sale, as part of a new agreement between The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and neighbors. About 3 acres on this site will be converted to a sculpture park.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is mending fences with its neighbors. 

The museum has reached an agreement with two neighborhood associations about its properties. In dispute were the site of the former Rockhill Tennis Club and four houses on 45th Street just north of the museum. 

Museum staffers and residents from the Rockhill and Southmoreland neighborhoods met over the last few months to hammer out a compromise. 

"We’ve had a lot of open dialogue," says Southmoreland Neighborhood Association president Laura Burkhalter. "Everyone has come to the table with an open mind, thinking about a new process, and looking for a new pathway going forward with the institution and the neighborhoods." 

On Wednesday, the Nelson-Atkins submitted to the city of Kansas City, Missouri, an amendment to its master plan. The museum had filed documents in October 2016 to create a Master Plan District, which included re-zoning some museum properties from residential to non-residential. Some of these ideas faced opposition from the neighbors.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art owns four houses north of the museum on 45th Street, which will be preserved and used for museum offices.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

Under the new agreement, the museum plans to sell the former tennis club — the Kirkwood House, built by William Rockhill Nelson for his daughter — for residential use, and convert about 3 acres of its land to a sculpture park.

The four houses will be preserved and used for museum office space; they'll be returned to residential properties when they’re no longer needed for offices. 

"Rather than continuing to escalate our differences, representatives from the Nelson Atkins, Rockhill and Southmoreland found common ground and worked toward an agreement," Shirley Helzberg, chair of the museum's board of trustees, said in a release.

"It’s a historic moment for the neighborhoods and the Nelson," says Burkhalter. "And it really sets the tone for a future positive friendship between the neighborhoods and the museum."

The issue next goes before the Kansas City Plan Commission on May 16. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.