Heard Mentality

How much longer will the city allow the acclaimed museum to disrupt a historic neighborhood's peace and quiet?

The Heard did provide New Times with a list of how many events occurred between August and December 2001. According to that list, there were 55 private events, with 37 of those held after 6 p.m. on weeknights and weekends.

"Some weeks there may be one," Goodyear says. "Some weeks there may be five."

The majority of groups that rent the facility are, according to Goodyear, among the "leading" companies in the Valley and out of state.

Craig Larotonda
Heard lawyer Nick Wood says the museum wants to be a good neighbor.
Kevin Scanlon
Heard lawyer Nick Wood says the museum wants to be a good neighbor.

There also were nine weddings, a number that Goodyear says he would like to see increase in coming years.


"They're profitable," he says.

Goodyear says the private events are actually a useful tool in furthering the museum's mission, which is to teach people about Native Americans.

"Our private-use business has been mischaracterized," he says. "It's a strategy to build awareness . . . it's not just a strategy for revenue enhancement."

He says the museum always offers tours as part of any contract to host a private event. For $300 an hour, the Heard also will keep its gift shop open during private events.

"It's part of the strategy of the institution to extend its educational mission."

Wildfire, however, was anything but educational, except to the neighbors who finally learned how little the museum seemed to care about following the rules.

While city inspectors were on site, and say that noise levels never deviated past acceptable levels, even Goodyear acknowledges the event was excessive.

"I admit the music was loud," he says.

The event was contested long before it took place.

When museum officials applied in September 2001 for a special-event liquor permit, Phoenix police immediately objected.

Chief Harold Hurtt wrote a letter to the museum, advising officials there that the police department would oppose the Heard receiving a special permit.

"The residents voiced concern regarding the negative impact large influxes of event attendees have on their neighborhood," Hurtt wrote.

But the permit was issued, and Wildfire went on as scheduled.

According to Wood, the museum's lawyer, Wildfire will be an annual fund raiser. He says the museum will modify the event in future years to address concerns about such things as amplified music, and setup and breakdown of the tent.

Other than the letter from Hurtt, the city has taken few steps to try to curb the museum's private-use activities.

Neighborhood Services, which has received four complaints about noise, traffic and illegal use, has stepped in once.

That was in November 2001, the same month as Wildfire, when inspectors reported that the Heard was not complying with its 1997 parking variance. The variance required the museum to provide security to restrict traffic leaving the museum from driving east into the historic neighborhood.

According to city records, following an event at the Heard that ended at 10:45 p.m., an inspector watched about 20 cars drive east on Monte Vista Road, into the neighborhood, instead of west to Central Avenue, as required. The museum has since hired guards to route traffic, according to Neighborhood Services.

The city prosecutor's office also declined to get involved once the museum filed its application for rezoning.

An October 2001 e-mail from an assistant city prosecutor to Phoenix police says that the city "will stay enforcement" because the museum seemed to be trying to comply with city zoning codes.

"Are we treating them any differently than any other business or activity? No. We can't," says Richert, the city's planning director. "What really is important here is the neighbors work with the Heard and they develop a partnership."

Richert says the city can't step in and shut down the Heard's private use because the events do not pose an immediate threat to the neighborhood's health and safety.

His argument sounds less like an enforcement official and more like a museum supporter, however. Richert told New Times that the majority of people attending private functions at the Heard are "educated people" who go home at a reasonable hour and aren't killing one another in the street.

Frank Fairbanks, Phoenix city manager, supports finding a solution to the problem. But, he says, the museum is acting in good faith and must be given time to comply.

"The Heard has to find a way to get along with their neighbors and they absolutely have to comply with the law," Fairbanks says. "They really are a valued resource. They generally aren't bad guys. They need to respect the neighborhood and they need to conduct their operation in a way that doesn't negatively impact the neighborhood."

To assist the process, the city is trying to mediate an acceptable set of stipulations before April 1 that would effectively govern museum events.

It's a last-ditch effort to stem a fight that has become increasingly convoluted because of the personalities involved.

Goodyear says the neighborhood wants the museum to go away. He attributes the fight to "individual animosity" between a resident and the museum's staff.

Skelly says things might be different today "if there was a different director over there."

Bender thinks nothing will change because the museum is determined not to compromise.

"Their attitude has been they're going to do whatever they want, and nobody can do anything to them," Bender says. "The Heard keeps saying it's just a couple of malcontents who want to close the museum."

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