Chicago may have been chosen as the permanent home for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, but that doesn’t mean it won’t face any hurdles along the way to becoming a reality. Even before the final decision was made, there were complaints about the location suggested by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The location in question are two parking lots that occupy 17 acres between Soldier Field and McCormick Place. According to the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, no private development is allowed east of Lake Shore Drive – and that’s where the Lucas Museum would be built.
Cassandra Francis is the CEO of Friends of the Parks, and she has promised to do what is within her power to prevent the museum from being built along the lakefront.
“If that means a lawsuit, we are prepared to file a lawsuit,” she said.
“The grounds will be it’s in contradiction and violation of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. It is new private development east of Lake Shore Drive. It’s currently public open space. The public controls how that site is accessed. That will no longer be the case. At some point at night, it’ll get locked up. That to me says private development. You’ll have to pay to get in. There will be days that are free, but that is not open clear and free for use of the public.”
Another issue for Francis – The parking lots act as barriers to protect the public from contaminated soil that was left over after Soldier Field was renovated. She also questions the plan for underground parking that is part of George Lucas’ proposed design for the museum, citing the “high-water table” and the need for “permanent de-watering.”
While the mayor has assured everyone that the museum will not use public funds, Francis also questions that notion.
“No one knows what the costs are. I am very concerned… that the public will need to bear some of these costs.”
The chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission, Rueben Hedlund, is in favor of the museum, stating that the parking lots need to be replaced with something “more inventive.” He also believes that the mayor would win any legal challenges that would arise.
“It’s not ‘nothing east of Lake Shore Drive.’ It’s no private development east of Lake Shore Drive. The question is, whether this is a private development, as opposed to privately-financed,” he said.
“Are you going to build hotels on Northerly Island? No. Private development means in the traditional sense. Hotels, restaurants. Can it be argued this is a private development? Sure. But I would argue this is not a private development in the sense that phrase was meant when [the lakefront plan] passed the City Council. This is a gratuitous, not-for-profit development that will go through the process and I think it will succeed.”
Most city officials seem to be in favor of the project, with the exception of Alderman Bob Fioretti of the 2nd Ward (where the museum would be located) and Alderman Scott Waguespack of the 32nd Ward.
Waguespack had this to say regarding Lucas’ desire that the museum be near water:
“Are we just giving him special dispensation because he wants water? If we’re breaking this law about putting this on the lake and park land, we shouldn’t be doing it.”
The construction of the Lucas Museum would likely lead to transportation projects – extending bus service, a dedicated trolley service to and from local rail stations, a pedway between the museum and Northerly Island, bike paths, water access, to name a few examples – all designed to ease the traffic flow in the area.
Mayor Emanuel shared his thoughts on those opportunities for improvement, and who will benefit:
“I’m not going to allow you to play a Catch-22. [Lucas is] going to make the contribution with no taxpayer support. Does that provide us the opportunity to think about other investments that would open up all four [museum] campuses? We’re gonna look at that. That’s what the task force was for,” the mayor said.
“You have Northerly Island there. You have three other museum campuses. And any transportation you do doesn’t benefit [Lucas]. It benefits the entire campus. Which I will remind you is why each of the presidents of the other museums have been not only receptive, very supportive. The building process…is on their dime. Not on taxpayers….The contribution to build the museum? George Lucas. Staffing it and the job opportunities, the economic opportunities? George Lucas and Mellody Hobson. Direct incentives? No. That’s different.”
Another group that is not pleased with the chosen location for the Lucas Museum? Chicago Bears fans. Those parking lost are where tailgaters typically congregate, but the mayor had words of reassurance for those fans:
“We’re gonna work on the tailgaters,” Emanuel said. “On the times in which there are games there, we will work through the issues of tailgating so you can both have a museum and open land and tailgating. That’s what you have smart architects for and designers.”
It’s not clear how tailgating benefits the city, while the museum will create an appealing green space, bring in millions of tourism dollars, provide educational and cultural opportunities, and create jobs. It’s estimated that the museum will provide 1,500 construction jobs, 500 permanent jobs, and that it will generate $150 million in tax revenue.
Barring legal battles, the Lucas Museum of Cultural Art is expected to open in 2018.