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Reflections: Commercial Development and Cultural Institutions

by Jerome Weeks 11 Jun 2012 6:56 AM

The dispute between the Nasher Sculpture Center and Museum Tower over damaging sunlight shows how commercial and cultural interests don’t always make for happy neighbors. But another town avoided such a conflict.


Many cities have used arts groups to attract real estate development. But in Dallas’ Arts District, a conflict has developed. Museum Tower was intended to complement the arts facilities. But the Nasher Sculpture Center has said the tower reflects sunlight that’s a danger to its artworks and garden. The condo developers disagree. The parties are currently in mediation, and neither is talking to the press. KERA’s Jerome Weeks says one case from another North Texas city shows how conflict was avoided

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If any North Texas museum faced a possible problem like the Nasher’s, it’d be Fort Worth’s Modern Art Museum. After its home in the Culture District opened in 2002, development around the District boomed. New buildings continue to go up near the Modern.

But there’s been no public quarrel as there’s been in Dallas. Marla Price is the director of the Modern.

Price: “We’ve had a lot of communication with the developers, and all of them presented to our board and our executive committee so that we were very well-informed about what exactly was going to happen.”

Richard Garvey says he made the presentations early in the planning process. After all, he says, the Culture District is why the developers are there. Garvey is president of JaGee Holdings, which owns Museum Place, a 12-acre, mixed-use, upscale project near the Modern. Garvey met with all the groups in the district, not just the Modern.

Garvey: “We didn’t want to do anything that would detract from one of our prime jewels of our city. So we thought it important to build some bridges with the museums and the Will Rogers.”

Across the pond, Roxy Paine’s Conjoined. In the distance, Museum Place.

The buildings around Fort Worth’s Culture District do have height restrictions lower than the ones in Dallas’ Arts District. Even so, like the Nasher, the Modern has a garden, and Garvey’s Museum Place looms over it. Garvey says he was very aware of this.

Garvey: “Our intent was not to detract from that architecture but to be more of a complement. I mean, it was very important to us to do that.”

Andras Szanto is a New York-based museum consultant and arts journalist. He says such disputes – cultural institutions vs. real estate developers – didn’t used to happen. They’re one sign of a city maturing.

Andras Szanto: “New York used to be a city that had a kind of anything-goes attitude to development much like cities in China – or Dallas. And then over time, as happens in cities like Paris or London, the focus shifts to preserving a certain idea.”

That idea can be preserving neighborhoods. Or greenspace. Or art. Szanto says it’s a complex shift. As cities age, what they may gain in these areas, they may lose in what he calls “bare-knuckled vitality.”

People might dismiss the Nasher affair as a tiff between wealthy condo owners and wealthy culture lovers. But Szanto argues these conflicts reveal a city’s values, how it balances the inevitable conflicts of urban life.

Szanto: “A city is a contested terrain. That’s what a city is all about, we’re all on top of each other. Whose interests conquer? Who calls the shots? Who defines the future of the city? Where else would this be played out if not in the most public institutions – which are your arts institutions?”

In Dallas, attorney Tom Luce has been facilitating negotiations between the Nasher and Museum Tower. He says that for the past 45 days, all parties have been working cooperatively. He remains optimistic the issues can be resolved.

  • Linda_adams5

    Evidently the Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles had the same issue – too shiny! They dulled it down to keep the neighbors happy. . . .

  • Linda_adams5

    Evidently the Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles had the same issue – too shiny! They dulled it down to keep the neighbors happy. . . .