The Nelson-Atkins Museum Is Closer To Expansion With Kansas City Plan Commission Approval

Jun 6, 2017

After months of discussions with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, neighbors attended a City Plan Commission meeting in support of a rezoning request.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

After coming to an agreement with its neighbors about a re-zoning request, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has now received approval from the Kansas City Plan Commission. 

Last year, such approval seemed uncertain. The Nelson wanted to turn houses it owned along 45th Street into administration and staff offices, and reuse some of the former Rockhill Tennis Club site as a sculpture garden and for overflow parking. 

In November, testimony at a City Plan Commission meeting lasted for a few hours, including comments from neighbors opposed to the plan. Commissioners suggested a continuance so the museum and neighborhood associations could talk more about their differences. 

On Tuesday, the Commission unanimously passed a tweaked proposal. The offices in the museum-owned houses will go forward, but the former Rockhill Club parking lot is off the table. The house on the site will be put on the market for residential use, and some of the property will be used to extend the sculpture park. Documents also included an agreement hammered out by the museum and its neighbors. 

Shirley Bush Helzberg, chair of the museum's board of trustees, thanked the commissioners. 

"You encouraged us to go back to the drawing board with neighborhood leaders and find a solution," Helzberg said. "That turned out to be very sage advice."

Helzberg also thanked the neighbors and neighborhood associations who "stayed at the table."

The museum’s director and CEO Julián Zugazagoitia says conversations with neighbors will continue to be part of the process.
Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3

"When the application was first heard in November, we were here with a basic message that it was a no-plan action plan," said Galen Mussman, president of the Rockhill Homes Association. "We are back now and we are very happy to say that there is plenty of plan." 

Mussman said collaboration with the museum has addressed neighborhood concerns about long-term historic preservation. Feedback from the neighbors now, he said, has been positive. 

"Although it's been a lengthy process, we've enjoyed the spirit of compromise and we're very excited about the product of this process," said Laura Burkhalter, president of the Southmoreland Neighborhood Association.

"Growth can occur under a new umbrella of unity, understanding, a new sense of support, trust and confidence, as we jointly, with our neighbors, build our future," said Nelson Director and CEO Julián Zugazagoitia.

After the meeting concluded, Zugazagoitia added that he was optimistic about ongoing conversations with the neighbors. 

"We have almost set a restart button," he said, "that creates a new way of engaging and dialoguing and trust. Because I think the most important thing of all of this is trust." 

Next steps: it will be sent on to the city's planning, zoning, and economic development committee before it goes before the full Kansas City City Council. 

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