Everyone has a breaking point.
For residents of the Encanto historic neighborhood, it came with a fashion show.
Not just any fashion show. This was "Wildfire," a 600-guest extravaganza showcasing international designer Ralph Lauren, complete with a carnival tent and an amplified rock band blasting music after 11 p.m. less than 100 yards from some of their homes.
But it didn't stop there.
At 11:30 p.m. on November 9, 2001, the music at Wildfire ended and the breakdown began. Guests poured onto residential streets. Catering crews started tearing down tables.
By the time Phoenix police arrived at the Heard Museum, which sponsored the event as a fund raiser, there was little to see. But that didn't stop residents from complaining.
Something had to give.
After all, some neighbors had spent more than a year asking museum officials to reduce noise from a growing number of private-use events, many held outside after dark. They urged the museum to require catering crews to keep quiet while loading equipment, which went on at times well into the early morning. Then they demanded that idling buses be kept away from the museum's rear parking lot, immediately adjacent to their homes.
But things only got worse.
What began with a few events has blossomed into a full-fledged cottage industry for the city's internationally acclaimed Native American museum.
In the past two years, the museum has drawn more than $1 million in event fees, catering contracts and alcohol sales by renting out portions of its sprawling Central Avenue campus to corporate parties, weddings and business meetings.
The money is in addition to any proceeds the museum makes from admissions, fund raisers and the handful of special events each year such as the Indian Fair and Market, which was held March 2-3.
The neighborhood doesn't oppose those cultural events because they live up to the spirit of the museum's mission statement, which is to educate the public about Native American contributions.
But private parties are another matter, especially when they disrupt the neighborhood.
Many of the events at the Heard currently violate city zoning codes and provisions that prohibit things like outdoor activities, outdoor cooking and mismanaged traffic control.
"We're not saying they can't conduct private-use activities," says Christopher Skelly, a former Maricopa County Superior Court judge, whose house sits directly behind the Heard's catering entrance. "We're just saying they have to do it in a way that complies with zoning laws."
Skelly is one of more than 60 residents that have jelled into a formidable group, the Neighbors of the Heard Museum Association. Most of the members live on either Hoover or Alvarado streets, which flank the museum property to the north and east. Some live in the two high-rise towers, Phoenix Towers and Regency House, which overlook the Heard's parking lots to the north and south.
The association's members are determined to see some measure of control exacted, either by the museum itself or by the city.
But even that simple goal may be hard to achieve.
The museum to date has shown little willingness to curb its profitable usage, even though it is in violation. Some events, like Wildfire, were allowed because the museum got a temporary permit.
The city has not intervened, despite receiving numerous complaints. Officials say they think the museum needs to make money and that the museum is trying to acknowledge the added burden on the neighbors by applying for rezoning and special permits. Many of the events take place indoors, but the outdoor events are hard to enforce because inspectors rarely work past 6 p.m., when the events typically begin.
"Even if they knew they were not in compliance, they're bouncing in and out of compliance," says city Planning Director David Richert.
The museum late last year applied to change its zoning, but Heard officials so far have resisted efforts by the neighborhood to drastically change the event guidelines.
The association has asked that the museum limit the hours of operation, the areas where music can be played and the route that traffic enters and leaves the facility.
"We're going to try everything within reason to arrive at an agreement regarding stipulations," says Nick Wood, the museum's zoning lawyer. "However, we can't agree to anything that would have a serious damaging impact on the Heard Museum to exist."
Richert's department supports the museum being rezoned, and the stipulations being proposed by the city can best be described as extremely lenient, even allowing events to continue until midnight on weekends.
Both the Heard and the neighborhood have proposed alternate stipulations that would keep private events from going past 11 p.m.
Ultimately, the issue will end up at the city council, whose members must decide what, if any, restrictions should be placed on the museum.
"Both of them have some valid issues," says new Councilman Mike Johnson, whose district includes the Heard. "A lot of our cultural arts centers are starting to have extracurricular activities to raise money.
"It's a matter of control. I really think the biggest key is communication."
The Heard Museum has been a fixture in Phoenix's cultural landscape since 1929.
Home to a world-class collection of Native American art and history, including Barry Goldwater's kachina doll collection, the museum has attracted international attention, drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors and earned millions of dollars in admissions and merchandise sales.
It also sits smack in the middle of one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.
Over the years, the Central Avenue corridor from McDowell Road to Camelback Road has grown to include skyscraper business towers, eclectic restaurants, strip malls and a host of scenic attractions.
Businesses have sprouted east of the museum as well, dotting the Third Street corridor, which bookends the Encanto historic neighborhood.
"The neighborhood, over the years, has struggled to maintain itself," says Richert, a longtime city employee.
The Central Avenue growth, particularly, he says, has encouraged the Heard's solicitation of revenue-making events.
And, to some degree, it's fair to say the neighborhood knew such events might one day be held at the museum.
Many of the residents opposed to the noise, increased traffic and disruption have long supported the facility. Some still volunteer at the museum, leading tours or teaching groups about Native American culture.
Neighbor Paul Bender, who along with Skelly first began asking the Heard to control the noise, is a former Board of Trustees member. He led several museum committees, and was involved in the initial discussions about how to expand the Heard's campus.
"That's one reason we bought this house," Bender says of his palatial 1920s historic dwelling that sits directly behind the museum. "Because we were so involved in the museum."
Bender, an Arizona State University law professor, says he remembers the board talking about the Heard obtaining a liquor license to make some extra money if private events occurred.
However, he says, "nobody said we're going to do it five nights a week."
Bender left the board before the expansion was finalized.
When museum officials pitched the 50,000-square-foot expansion project to city zoning administrators in July 1997, there was no mention of using the museum for private events. The proposed expansion included an auditorium, a large open courtyard and a sprawling amphitheater that looks out onto Central Avenue.
At the time, the museum said it needed the extra space for "educational purposes," according to city documents. It even secured a parking variance, reducing the number of parking spaces on site to 279, even though more than 1,100 parking spaces were required.
The only stipulation placed on the museum was that it hire security to route traffic away from the Encanto neighborhood, specifically Alvarado Street.
City documents do not reflect any discussion about how the facility would be used. Nor is there any indication that the museum asked whether zoning for the expansion included any restrictions. The expansion area is zoned for commercial use. City code does not allow any outdoor use in a commercial zone.
Sheryl Sculley, an assistant city manager, also was on the board of trustees at the time. She doesn't recall anyone asking about what uses might be allowed or prohibited.
"There was discussion about increasing private activities because the demand was there," says Sculley, who spent about nine years as a trustee. "I don't remember being told, 'Hey, we've got to get different zoning.'"
At the time, no one probably envisioned the extent of the demand that was to come.
The problem began almost immediately after the expansion opened in 1999.
Bender was one of the first to complain about loud noise emanating from the museum's new air-conditioning unit, which was attached to the new building.
The first of what has grown into a large stack of letters was written to the museum.
By 2000, however, the letters were addressing other concerns, primarily the increasing number of private events held at night on museum grounds.
One of the chief complaints focused on catering trucks that set up near the museum's rear entrance, on the east side of the building, directly in front of a row of five historic houses. A block wall and minimal vegetation separate these houses from the museum's parking lot.
Neighbors complained that catering crews were preparing food outdoors, which also is prohibited in a commercial zone. They wrote letters detailing the aroma of food that wafted into their backyards.
The museum since has built a kitchen where catering crews can prepare meals. Director Frank Goodyear Jr. says no food is prepared outdoors anymore, except during special events such as the Indian Market.
Neighbors also complained about noise caused by the catering crews once events ended. They cited examples of buses and trucks idling in the rear parking lot for hours, both before and after events.
"The 'tear-down' process by the caterers is extremely loud and goes on sometimes until 2 in the morning," Skelly and Bender wrote in a December 2000 letter to the city zoning administrator. "It's like living next door to a Greyhound terminal with a bar."
At the time, the city's Neighborhood Services Department had received one complaint about the museum.
"From my point of view, the Heard has done everything humanly possible to be good neighbors," says Jim Meenaghan, the museum's current trustee president. "We've been open to any and all suggestions."
Goodyear says the museum has revised its guidelines to address as many neighborhood concerns as possible.
"We've had many meetings" with the caterers, he says. "We try to train our personnel to respond to these situations."
Goodyear came to the Heard in November 1999, after a career spent presiding over cultural centers in Wyoming and Pennsylvania. He oversees 91 employees, works with a 40-member board of trustees and manages a $7 million-plus annual budget.
He says that, since receiving complaints, the museum has added shields to the rear parking lot lights, reducing the amount of light that goes over the wall into neighbor yards. It made $8,000 worth of modifications to the air-conditioning unit to reduce noise. It placed a sign next to the bus unloading area prohibiting idling engines. It revised catering contracts to include statements concerning "unacceptable noise levels."
"I think we're known as the 'Sssh! Heard Museum' by our caterers," Goodyear says without a smile. "I should also tell you we don't live in a perfect world. There may be policy infringements that happen, but I think the intent of the policy is clear."
However, other measures allegedly taken by the museum are less apparent or effective.
A January 2001 letter from Goodyear to Skelly says that "Please be quiet" signs would be posted for caterers, delivery drivers and other visitors. No signs are currently visible on museum grounds.
Goodyear says the signs are portable and are placed outside during evening events.
The letter also says catering-truck drivers were told not to keep their engines idling while removing supplies.
However, on a recent Friday afternoon, a catering truck was observed with its engine idling for at least 30 minutes while workers unloaded food trays.
"The driver of that van should have been told to turn [the] engine off," Goodyear says. "I've witnessed violations, too."
By January 2001, the city prosecutor's office was being inundated with letters about the museum.
Electronic mail obtained from the city shows that efforts were made by the prosecutor's office to mediate a solution between the museum and neighbors. However, the complaints continued and eventually both sides refused to sit down and talk.
One message from a Phoenix police commander, copied to prosecutors, expressed concern about the disruptions.
"The neighbors are not real satisfied of our response during the late night hours," Commander Joe Klima wrote in March 2001. "This is a very sensitive issue that I think the beat officers and squad sergeants need to be aware of."
The Heard, by this time, was aggressively marketing itself as an ideal site for events.
As a federally recognized nonprofit organization, the museum depends on donations to maintain its artifacts and exhibits. Private contributions are buoyed by gift shop sales, averaging nearly $2 million a year since 1998. Annual events, such as the Indian Market, add more to the coffers. And rental fees from private events have skyrocketed from less than $200,000 in 1999 to more than $500,000 in 2000 and nearly $600,000 in 2001.
Heard officials say the money still isn't enough.
"They have been operating on a shoestring," Wood says.
The Heard's most recent tax return, from October 1999 to September 2000, shows the museum earning $6.9 million in total revenue. During that same time period, the museum spent $7.5 million, resulting in a deficit of more than $500,000.
No financial statements are available for 2000.
"There are certain realities no one can ignore. In order for this museum to fulfill its mission, it needs money," Wood says. "The sources for that money is limited. If you were to lose one of those [sources], there's no guarantee you can replace it with something else, and it may be such a critical loss there's no way the museum could survive."
The museum has relied on avenues such as the Internet to promote its facility and give details about its private-use fees.
"From intimate receptions to exquisite dinners, unique weddings to corporate meetings, the Heard Museum offers a variety of beautiful rooms and courtyards to make your event a one-of-a-kind experience," the museum's Web site boasts. "You can entertain from 20 to several hundred guests."
Rental rates run the gamut from $2,500 for an evening dinner party to $4,000 for a five-hour wedding that, according to the Web site, can accommodate up to 1,000 people. Daytime meetings are advertised from $500 to $1,000 with space for up to 400 people.
The Heard handles all liquor and beverage sales during events. Those profits are included in the museum's estimated gross revenue. The museum also requires that all food be contracted through one of the Heard's preferred catering companies, of which there are six.
Those catering contracts also are lucrative for the museum. According to the Heard's agreement, which caterers must sign, each company agrees to pay a fee of at least $1,500 and promises to provide, as a donation, free catering service for at least two museum events.
In 2001, the museum hosted more than 100 private events, according to Goodyear. Of those, 44 events either took place entirely outdoors or included some outdoor use.
The Heard refused to release a list of individuals who have rented the museum for private use. (The Arizona Press Club is renting the Heard in April for its annual journalism awards banquet; several New Times editors and writers are on the press club board.)
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.
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."
Into this mix comes the city, whose proposal for the museum's rezoning by the city Planning Department varies widely from stipulations being requested by the neighborhood. Even the museum, which does not want to endanger its ability to make money, seems less demanding, when compared to the city's proposal.
The main points of contention are the hours of operation, the routing of traffic and the potential for disruption from outdoor music being played.
The city is proposing that the Heard be allowed to host private events until 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The city wants all traffic isolated to the museum grounds and not on residential streets. And the city stipulations cite specific decibel levels that must be monitored and enforced.
The Heard has offered to stop all private events by 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. It has agreed to discontinue amplified music outdoors, except in courtyards and tents, by 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10:30 p.m. on weekends. And it is requiring traffic to be routed away from the neighborhood upon exiting the museum at its Monte Vista entrance.
The neighborhood doesn't want any music amplified outdoors, except for the handful of annual museum events such as the Indian Market. Private-use events must end by 9 p.m. on weeknights and 10 p.m. on weekends. And all traffic has to exit the museum onto Central Avenue.
"Whatever stipulations we agree on, they've got to be enforceable," Skelly says. "I hope the city would be ready to enforce whatever it agrees on."
Richert says that upon being rezoned, the museum would be subject to an annual review to ensure the Heard is complying. At any time, the new zoning permit would be subject to revocation.
"The council will always hold that ace in the hole," Richert says.
"I do think it's gotten personal," says Mike Johnson, who inherited the Heard as part of his district in November, when he was elected to fill former longtime council member Cody Williams' seat.
However, he says, "it's not like the neighborhood was there and we just plopped [the Heard] down."
The neighborhood seems to understand all too well what it is up against.
"We've not taken the position their zoning request should be denied outright, which we could have done," Skelly says. "I have faith that common sense will prevail, despite the fact it's the Heard Museum on the other side."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.
- John McCain Claims to Be Unaware of Arizona's Anti-Islam Movement and That Planned...
- Phoenix Nativist Michelle Dallacroce Bashed "Anchor Babies" Before Donald Trump and...
- Phoenix New Times Seeks News Freelancers