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Galactic negotiations: Chicago battles West Coast cities for rights to Lucas Museum

Jackson Danbeck

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A rendering by MAD Architects of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a museum currently planned to be opened in Chicago by 2019-2020. The museum and the site is currently being debated between Chicagoans, with Friends of the Park arguing that the state of Illinois has jurisdiction over the land. (Photo courtesy of MAD Architects)

A rendering by MAD Architects of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a museum currently planned to be opened in Chicago by 2019-2020. The museum and the site is currently being debated between Chicagoans, with Friends of the Park arguing that the state of Illinois has jurisdiction over the land. (Photo courtesy of MAD Architects)

While the battle for the Lucas Museum continues to grind on, “Star Wars” founder George Lucas and his wife are now considering to relocate their museum of narrative art to another city. 

The couple’s threat is in reaction to a prolonged lawsuit by the preservation group Friends of the Parks, who are against the construction of the $400 million museum on 17 acres of lakefront public land between Soldier Field and McCormick Place.

The non-profit argues that the Lucas Museum cannot build on land that the state of Illinois has jurisdiction over, and that the extensive building would taint the lakefront’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Lucas and his supporters argue that the land they want to build on is currently a parking lot, and the museum — including Lucas’ $600 million art collection — would be a suitable addition to the museums already residing on the lakefront.

But this may no longer be the case.

“We are now seriously pursuing locations outside of Chicago,” Mellody Hobson, Lucas’ wife and a Chicago native, said in a statement on May 3. “If the museum is forced to leave, it will be because of the Friends of the Parks and that is no victory for anyone.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been one of the Lucas Museum’s strongest advocates, who has said that its opening would provide much-needed economic growth and is a rare, and free, opportunity to add to Chicago’s lakefront. To push the project along, on May 4 the mayor’s city attorneys requested the court of appeals to toss the lawsuit.   

To avoid the struggle against the Friends of the Parks, Lucas and the city are now considering a plan to demolish McCormick Place’s lakeside convention center to free up another potential space for the museum.

Yet this spot is arguably also public space, and the Friends of the Parks are expected to file another lawsuit if the museum is planned to be built there.   

(Katie Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

(Katie Tamosiunas / The DePaulia)

Pressed for time, the aging Lucas, who wants to see his dream become reality, may decide to simply leave Chicago in the dust and build his museum in another city like Los Angeles or San Francisco — cities that previously rejected the museum.

Euan Hague, professor and chair of DePaul’s department of geography, said that the dispute ultimately comes down to whether the lakefront property merits its designation as a public space for all to enjoy.   

“I think what people are concerned about is setting a precedent for new construction along the lakefront,” Hague said. “If you are going to give a private foundation that level of visibility, that access to land, how can you turn down the next private foundation who wants to build a museum?”

The city has allowed private enterprises to be built on the lakefront before, most notably Soldier Field, the Field Museum, McCormick Place and Lake Point Tower, a condominium east of Lake Shore Drive. The Field Museum aroused a similar battle in its day.     

“It’s one of these policies that the city historically has abided by, or ignored, depending on what it wants to construct,” Hague said. The city seems to be ignoring that policy this time around, Hague said.

For all the museum’s legal troubles, it is supposed to offer the city a unique experience, concentrating on narrative art through images and cinema.

“When I look at the plans for the Lucas Museum, I can see a tremendous amount of value involved, in terms of bringing to Chicago a type of museum we don’t currently have, that looks at the art of storytelling,” Cheryl Bachand, lecturer in DePaul’s department of the history of arts and architecture, said.

And many points raised by opponents to the Lucas Museum are common for museums in Chicago and across the United States, Bachand said. Poor residents often cannot afford tickets, and museums are usually paid for by private institutions on land provided by local government.

DePaul students seemed divided on whether the Lucas Museum should be built on Chicago’s lakefront.

Charlie Hopkins, a sophomore and environmental studies major, said he supports the Lucas Museum if certain conditions are met.

“As long as the state signs it over, and everything is legal about it. I mean, it’s not like he’s going to put a factory on the lakefront. He’s going to put up something that’s going to draw visitors and tourists,” Hopkins said.

Samuel Re Calderon, a sophomore and political science major, said he is against the construction of the Lucas Museum, although he approves of how the museum plans to offer certain aspects of its experience free of charge.

“I think it’s a waste of space,” Re Calderon said. “Even though the complex looks really cool, it’s too much of a money blow out, especially on a George Lucas exhibit.”

The next step of the lawsuit is a hearing on June 15, when both sides will present their case on whether construction of the museum should begin.   

Patience and understanding are the names of the game, Hague said. Often people do not recognize the amount of time and energy expended in the negotiation for projects like the Lucas Museum. They simply want to experience the attraction.

“These things take a long time to happen,” Hague said. “They don’t just occur in an instant, and quite often they are contentious debates.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Galactic negotiations: Chicago battles West Coast cities for rights to Lucas Museum”

  1. jaguar717 on May 15th, 2016 5:52 pm

    No mention of the $1.2 Billion, unless it’s $1.5 Billion, in bonds they want to issue? Or the 4-5 taxes being raised and extended?

    A bankrupt jurisdiction piling more debt on for a *museum*, and here that’s viewed as the only way something can happen. Couldn’t care less what they do with the land, but keep government out of it for once (I guess that’s asking the impossible in a “progressive” mecca like Chicago).

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Galactic negotiations: Chicago battles West Coast cities for rights to Lucas Museum