The Madrid Theatre's neighbors shun the glorious restored venue and its patrons.

Exile on Main Street 

The Madrid Theatre's neighbors shun the glorious restored venue and its patrons.

After years of planning and painstaking renovation, Kerry Duffin realized his dream -- the glamorous Madrid Theatre, complete with an indoor fountain, a hardwood dance floor, a balcony with unobstructed views and classy decorative touches galore. Soon after it opened, "the distinctive theater" started attracting impressive crowds, drawing roughly 300 people to its weekly salsa/ballroom nights and near-capacity turnouts for an eclectic mix of live performances, while filling open dates with lucrative corporate events. It's a Midtown success story, providing tangible hope for Kansas Citians who still harbor visions of pedestrian-packed streets and vital big-city nightlife.

Unfortunately, not everyone feels good about this feel-good tale. "The million-dollar question is, 'Why wouldn't anyone want you to restore an old theater?'" Duffin says, recapping the inquiry he often gets from patrons who've had to endure harassment from Madrid protesters. The answer, astonishingly, is that people who live in the homes and apartments on Baltimore and Wyandotte, the side streets bordering the venue, are shocked that traffic from a thriving Main Street might spill over into the surrounding neighborhood. Old Hyde Park Neighborhood Association president John Gladeau and Baltimore Place Condominium Association president David Morris have each voiced their displeasure about the situation, and Hyde Park-area activist Lydia Carson has even taken to video vigilantism, capturing infractions both small (open container violations) and smaller (parking in areas ostensibly -- but not explicitly -- designated for residents).

Fighting fire with fire, Duffin enlisted an employee to videotape Madrid staff members in the act of directing concertgoers to the venue's designated parking lots, with a secondary focus on Carson and other save-our-spaces rabble-rousers. Footage taken on November 3, the evening of the sold-out Puddle of Mudd show, depicts anti-Madrid demonstrators parking directly in front of the venue, nabbing the strategic location to berate patrons and verbally abuse the venue's workers. "Some of it is downright hilarious," Duffin says, watching his nemeses blow gaskets over the prospect that their guests might have to stroll an extra half block to visit them at home. (At Baltimore Place, residents have off-street parking, with one guest spot for the ten units to share.) "You have to take it with humor. Otherwise, it would drive me crazy."

Morris, an easy-mannered lawyer and classic-rock fan (he lists Neil Young as a favorite), also made the rounds on Puddle of Mudd night, but he didn't make a melodramatic show of his indignation, so his work doesn't show up on camera. Morris did take note of several goings-on he found suspicious, all of which he documented and sent in letter form to Duffin, Mayor Kay Barnes, councilman Jim Rowland and others. Among his findings: several concertgoers hosting minitailgate parties on side streets, a fellow vomiting on a lawn, a man who claimed to be "with Puddle of Mudd" downing a beer in the Madrid's parking lot and someone who remarked to an individual exiting a tour bus, "You're smoking something a lot better than me." Mildly shady business, to be sure, but anyone who's been to a concert knows that what he's describing ain't exactly Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

Kansas City Star music critic Timothy Finn, who attends a fair amount of shows, witnessed nothing out of the ordinary on his way to review the Puddle of Mudd gig. "I saw no one drinking anywhere, nor anyone puking or acting unruly," he reports. "They only served soda and water inside [it was an all-ages, alcohol-free performance], and everyone was pretty orderly."

This orderly assembly patiently waited in line to get patted down at the door, a detail Morris notes with dismay in his letter. "Any crowd that must be body-searched and warned not to bring weapons onto the property stretches the definition of 'upscale'," Morris writes, referring to the venue's oft-stated goal of catering to an upscale clientele.

To some degree, Duffin agrees. He still wants to ensure that the Madrid's entertainment offerings match the venue's class and style, whether it's ballroom dancing, French cocktail jazz (Stereolab) or mind-numbingly complex art-rock (King Crimson). Duffin admits House of Blues-booked acts such as Puddle of Mudd and The Urge, who raised the ire of Carson and company by attracting its boorish following to the area for an October show, don't fit this criteria.

"We tried it, and it backfired," Duffin says of The Urge show, which resulted in $1,000 in damage to the venue's interior. "It's not the type of show we're going to put in there again." Duffin's wish list for 2002 includes meringue bands, Hindu artists and other cultural/ethnic groups for which there are currently few available forums. To hear Duffin tell it, the Madrid might eventually become an aural museum, providing an additional taste of cultural and ethnic diversity to an already colorful neighborhood. For now, the venue's biggest reach has been booking the Cali Comm tour, a top-notch hip-hop showcase that brings The Coup, The Pharcyde and other master lyricists to the stage on Tuesday, November 13. That date has no doubt been circled by the anti-Madrid faction as well as by hip-hop heads; nothing draws "not in our neighborhood" signs quicker than a rap show.

But no matter what the incoming entertainment event might be, "not in our neighborhood" seems like a ludicrous rallying cry within shouting distance of Main Street. As anyone who's visited New York, Chicago or any other major metropolis is well aware, parking spaces near active nightlife districts are scarce, and the people who take up residence near busy thoroughfares must weigh this inconvenience against the thrill of living close to the city's pulse. And while our Main Street isn't quite Michigan Avenue, it has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, with the Unicorn, Grand Emporium and now the Madrid making the strip between 38th and 39th Streets an appealing evening destination. But even before Midtown-minded entrepreneurs such as Duffin and Emporium-owner Roger Naber resuscitated the area, it was fair to expect a good amount of traffic passing through and perhaps even bleeding onto side streets. This is, after all, Main Street. It's not as if it's not clearly marked.

"Main Street was there first," Duffin confirms. "[Residents] knew it when they made the choice to move there. If you want a quiet, tree-lined street with no people parking on it, you should move to Johnson County."

"I love living where I live," responds Morris, who has lived in or near Midtown KC since 1974. And, more than some of his fellow parking-rights advocates ("It's a shame that people have to come out and videotape," he says), he's got some love for the Madrid as well. In his letter, he makes a point to express his appreciation for the parking controls the Madrid has put in place and for restoring a blighted building. In conversation, he notes that the venue "has certainly done a lot of things right" and expresses enthusiasm for both the ballroom nights and upcoming performances by Leo Kottke and John Hiatt. But in his eyes, the parking quandaries outshine the venue's benefits. "I just wish there was some way that we could have the Madrid and that people could get to the parking lots and have a good time. If we get a relationship going, I think we'd be just fine."

Without dealing with Morris directly, Duffin has already addressed many of his concerns -- scaling back on hard-rock shows, posting a parking map on the venue's eponymous Web site and booking private business rentals every weekend from January to June, which will cut down significantly on the double-decker crowds that result when Madrid shows coincide with high-profile Grand Emporium gigs. (Puddle of Mudd's concert competed with a sold-out showing by Indigenous.)

Morris' proposed solutions to the parking issue (a multivenue parking garage, mandatory parking-lot-attendant stamps before entering the venue, a raffle for free tickets for people who park in the Madrid's lots) might not be cost-effective or feasible, but at least his methods of presenting them are reasonable and nonconfrontational. On the other hand, the protesters who take to the street serve only to turn the public against their cause, exasperating a man who should be enjoying the opportunity to celebrate his successful venture in the process. If you catch the staff of America's Most Unnecessary Home Videos in action, smile -- you're on camera! Then be sure to tell them, in no uncertain terms, where they can park.


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