Lucas Museum drops plan to build in Chicago
A draft rendering of the Lucas Museum on McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center site near Chicago’s lakefront.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
A revised artist’s rendering shows the latest design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art at its orginally proposed location south of Soldier Field. Friends of the Park sued and a judge ruled the site may violate state law, prompting the Emanuel administration to propose razing Lakeside Center for the museum.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
An artist’s rendering shows the latest design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
An artist’s rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art at its originally proposed location south of Soldier Field.(MDC Partners)
A revised artist’s rendering shows a cutaway of the planned Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is shown in its originally planned location. Soldier Field is at right.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
A revised rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is seen from overhead, with Northerly Island at right, at the originally planned site.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art )
A proposed design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art at its original site included a grassy area south of the building, at left, that could be used by tailgaters during Bears home games.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
A rendering of the proposed design for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art at its original site, including a grassy area south of the museum that could be used for tailgaters during Bears home games.(Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)
An artist’s rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art as viewed from the south at the originally planned site.(MDC Partners)
Artist’s rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in its originally planned location as viewed from the north. Soldier Field is at right.(MDC Partners)
Chicago architect Thomas Hickey’s alternative Lucas Museum site plan shows it west of Lake Shore Drive. Hickey suggests building it on a deck over railroad tracks and a parking lot with essentially the same twin-peaked profile as the current plan but more elongated to fit the narrower site. Ramps would extend from the deck, linking it to the Museum Campus to the east and the emerging McCormick Place entertainment district.(Thomas Hickey & Associates)
Thomas Hickey’s Lucas Museum site plan shows it west of Lake Shore Drive with ramps extending to the Museum Campus to the east and the emerging McCormick Place entertainment district.(Thomas Hickey & Associates)
Architect Thomas Hickey’s Lucas Museum site plan shows it west of Lake Shore Drive and built on a deck over railroad tracks and a parking lot.(Thomas Hickey & Associates)
Architect Ma Yansong at the originally proposed future site of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
The Lucas Museum saga in Chicago has ended.
“Star Wars” creator George Lucas announced Friday he is abandoning plans to build the project in Chicago, ending months of debate and controversy. Lucas, who wanted to build a museum showcasing his art collection along the city’s lakefront, said in a statement he would shift his focus to trying to build the museum in California.
The Lucas Museum proposal has been on hold since November 2014, when the group Friends of the Parks filed a federal lawsuit blocking construction.
“No one benefits from continuing their seemingly unending litigation to protect a parking lot,” filmmaker George Lucas said. “The actions initiated by Friends of Parks and their recent attempts to extract concessions from the city have effectively overridden approvals received from numerous democratically elected bodies of government.”
In the statement, Lucas thanked Chicago and Illinois officials for their efforts to bring the project to the Midwest.
“We are deeply appreciative to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and countless others for all the time and effort they invested in trying to secure the museum for Chicago,” Lucas said. “While Chicago will not be home to the museum, my wife and I will continue to enthusiastically support a wide variety of educational and cultural activities throughout the city.”
Lucas’ wife, financial executive Mellody Hobson, is a Chicago native.
“It is unfortunate that the Lucas Museum has made the decision to leave Chicago rather than locate the museum on one of several alternative sites that is not on Chicago’s lakefront. That would have been the true win-win,” Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry and board chair Lauren Moltz said in a statement. Irizarry could not immediately be reached. Moltz declined additional comment.
Friends of the Parks argued that the museum plans violate the public trust doctrine, benefit a private interest more than the state’s residents and tarnish the city’s lakefront. While the group hinted at a compromise in recent days, Friends of the Parks did not withdraw its lawsuit and remained steadfast in its opposition to lakefront development.
Emanuel issued a statement Friday saying the city lost a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
“Unfortunately, time has run out, and the moment we’ve consistently warned about has arrived,” Emanuel stated. “Chicago’s loss will be another city’s gain. ... We tried to find common ground to resolve the lawsuit — the sole barrier preventing the start of the museum’s construction. But despite our best efforts to negotiate a common solution that would keep this tremendous cultural and economic asset in Chicago, Friends of the Parks chose to instead negotiate with themselves while Lucas negotiated with cities on the West Coast.”
Rauner issued a statement saying he was “disappointed” but understood the decision “given the numerous hurdles faced every step of the way.”
“Diana and I wish George and Mellody the best of luck and express my gratitude for their patience and willingness to consider Chicago as the home for their state of the art museum,” the governor wrote.
The plan for the futuristic-looking 300,000-square-foot museum on 17 acres of lakefront property south of Soldier Field had received the approval of the Chicago City Council, the Plan Commission and the Chicago Park District. The Park District owns the land and had entered into an agreement to lease the property at a cost of $10 for 99 years, with a two-time option to renew.
The estimated price tag of the museum, near $750 million, was to be funded by Lucas.
Hobson, who in the spring voiced displeasure with the faltering prospects for her husband’s museum, did not make a public comment on the decision. Hobson had labeled Friends of the Parks a “special interest group” that “hijacked” the process.
“As an African-American who has spent my entire life in this city I love, it saddens me that young black and brown children will be denied the chance to benefit from what this museum will offer,” she said in May.
Lawyers for the city and the parks group tussled in court for more than a year over the legality of the proposal on land formerly part of Lake Michigan. A federal judge allowed the lawsuit to proceed, stating the park group adequately stated a claim. The city of Chicago then filed a motion in federal appeals court, essentially asking a panel of judges to toss out the parks group’s lawsuit, which would clear the way for the project. The project had all the necessary city and state approvals. The appeals court had not yet ruled on the city’s motion.
Lucas chose Chicago after plans to build the museum in San Francisco were rejected. He has again been exploring a site on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles also has expressed interest.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti jumped on the news.
“The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art would be perfect for Los Angeles,” Garcetti said in a statement. “Tens of millions of people visit our city every year — and L.A. has unquestioned stature as a world arts capital, thanks to institutions like the Broad, the Getty, MOCA and LACMA. We would welcome the opportunity to be a permanent home for this incredible collection, which would become part of a museum culture that is unrivaled in the United States.”
The decision by Lucas to build his museum elsewhere elicited frustrated responses from many in Chicago who had worked to bring the project to the city.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a strong supporter, criticized Friends of the Parks. The city loses a “major jewel … all because of an elitist GANG called Friends of the Park who think they run the lakefront,” Pfleger posted on his Facebook page. “Don’t ever tell me about gangs in the community, some of the most powerful gangs in Chicago live in high-rises and seek to run the whole city!!!”
Pfleger’s post drew a mixed response from his followers online, with some people voicing disappointment in the decision and others saying the city has more pressing concerns.
Labor groups and pastors from neighborhoods south and west of the proposed museum became vocal supporters of the Lucas plan in recent weeks, holding rallies at the parking lot site and outside the Friends of the Parks’ Loop offices. The mayor’s office touted the project as a jobs creator and tourism draw.
The Rev. Leon Finney, pastor of the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, who helped organize several pro-museum rallies, said Friday he was “disappointed and disgusted.”
“To lose 4,000 construction jobs, 2,000 permanent jobs, where else are you going to get those in the Rust Belt?” Finney said. “I’m pretty upset. I’m disappointed Chicago couldn’t be united behind this.”
With the parking lot plan in legal limbo, Emanuel pitched an alternate plan to put the Lucas Museum at McCormick Place. That idea called for tearing down the Lakeside East convention hall and building the museum on that site. But that proposal went nowhere amid the state budget stalemate.
The McCormick Place plan came with a $1.17 billion price tag, extending five taxes beyond their expiration dates. To fund it, the Exposition Authority, known as McPier, would have had to issue bonds. A $743 million contribution from Lucas would pay debt on the borrowing for the first 16 years of the 40-year loan.
Friends of the Parks initially opposed the alternate plan as well. The group then softened its stance in recent weeks, issuing a list of negotiating points, but city officials indicated the only viable plan was the parking lot site.
Tailgating Bears fans, on the other hand, had been vocal opponents of the plan to replace the South Lot with the Lucas Museum. With the Lucas proposal off the table, football fans will have plenty of space when the preseason opens in six weeks.
On the Lucas Museum website, which for months trumpeted the project’s benefits, two words that had previously been displayed prominently next to “our investment” were gone Friday afternoon.
The deleted words: “in Chicago.”
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