What to do with a large wall in Kirkwood’s new Performing Arts Center, standing conspicuously in the lobby and separating it from the auditorium, has been a nascent issue since it first came under discussion nearly two years ago.

“You will be able to see it from the street,” said Mayor Tim Griffin, meaning it would be an aesthetic disaster simply to leave it blank. A place keeper idea — covering the wall with painted geometric shapes — was presented at a city council work session in May 2018, but it has not worn well in the minds of Griffin or members of the council.

More seemly solutions came in proposals gathered by city staff, calling for embedded glass and mosaic tiles. They were vastly more attractive than a mere painted wall, but also vastly more expensive, with price tags ranging to $250,000.

The issue has remained fallow for 22 months, but now that the arts center is under construction, it is stirring back to life. The council, at its Feb. 6 meeting, appropriated $9,140 for a study of the issue by Jacobs Engineering, the firm handling various design services for the center. 

Jacobs’ mandate will be to develop “alternative designs” to the somewhat cursory plan to cover the wall with painted geometric shapes, said Parks Director Murray Pounds in a memo to the council requesting the appropriation.

Once the council has a report on Jacobs’ study, “artistic people” will be brought in to make specific recommendations, said Griffin.

In other action related to the Performing Arts Center, the council gave its permission to the Stages theatrical group to assign naming rights for the stage in the auditorium of the building to Don and Nancy Ross, who have been significant supporters of the group.

The Main Stage Theatre in the new center will be known as the Ross Family Theatre. The city’s current theatre, in the recreation center at 111 S. Geyer Road, is named for the late former mayor Robert G. Reim.

Stages has not divulged the amount given to the group for the naming rights, Griffin said. It is understood that the funds will be used to meet the $2 million obligation that Stages agreed to provide for the arts center, Griffin said.

Griffin emphasized that the naming rights apply only to the stage in the auditorium of the Performing Arts Center and not to the center itself.

“That’s going to be named ‘The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center,’ or something to that effect,” Griffin said. 

That is, the name will acknowledge clearly that Kirkwood taxpayers are the largest patrons of the new center, he said.