At the most recent meeting of the Kirkwood City Council, Beth Fitzgerald, president of The Magic House, asked councilors to approve an amendment to its special use permit that would extend the museum's evening hours for outdoor activities in front of, and behind, the building.
The amendment would allow outdoor activities in front of The Magic House-St. Louis Children's Museum year round from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. It would also allow outdoor activities behind the front building line from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 1 through Oct. 31 and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. November 1 through March 31.
Some residents who live on Angenette Avenue, a street adjacent to the museum, spoke out against the proposed amendment at the April 21 meeting of the city council. They said loud music blaring after 8 p.m., conversations overheard on the museum's loudspeaker, and picnicking in their front yards are just some of the instances of what they've had to deal with since the museum's expansion in December 2008.
"Every time they've expanded, I've been told that 'This is the last time,'" said Angenette Avenue resident Julie Allman, who noticed Magic House patrons picnicking on her front lawn after an outdoor event. "We feel like we are defending our neighborhood from The Magic House."
Another Angenette resident, Miriam Joseph, noted that annual Magic House attendance has risen drastically following each expansion. In 2000, annual attendance at the museum was 385,000 visitors. The number of annual visitors had increased to 530,000 in 2010, according to Sara Kahre, senior marketing manager for The Magic House.
"Most major museums are not tucked into a neighborhood," Allman said. "It's a very rare case for The Magic House."
After recent tornadoes and with increasing attendance, the museum sought to amend its special use permit with the city, passed into law in 2000. In March, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the changes. In addition to the hours for outdoor activities, changes include:
- Replacing the storm damaged wood fence on the eastern property line with an 8-foot sight-proof concrete wall;
- A public announcement system to communicate with visitors
- A sign reminding attendees to "please respect our residential neighbors" and to park only in designated lots.
Supporters of The Magic House amendment also spoke at the meeting, citing examples of other nonprofit organizations, like Mudd's Grove and St. Gerard Majella that often host evening events without controversy.
"These are the sounds of a city that's alive and well," said Paula Burdge, director of visitor services at The Magic House.
Karen Drexler, who has rented the museum for events on behalf of the Kirkwood School District, also spoke in support of the museum.
"The Magic House is a Kirkwood treasure, shared by children and families across the country...and I'm saddened to think that Kirkwood would not fully embrace what it has to offer."
Outdoor activities at The Magic House include fundraisers, as well as fitness and outdoors education events for children, according to Kahre. For instance, if the amendment before councilors passes, Fitness First Fridays would be on the first Friday of every month from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Local sports celebrities from the St. Louis Rams and other teams would come and teach kids the importance of staying active, Kahre said.
The City Council decided to delay the first reading of the bill until its next meeting on May 7.