Lucas Museum Groundbreaking Imperiled; Mayor Accused of “Cover Up”

Revised rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (Courtesy of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)

Revised rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (Courtesy of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)

The city of Chicago’s effort to throw out a lawsuit opposing the construction of the new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Chicago’s lakefront has failed.  Today, federal District Judge John Darrah ruled that the lawsuit trying to stop the new museum from replacing a surface parking lot next to Soldier Field can move forward.

The lawsuit was brought by Friends of the Parks, which doesn’t think the museum belongs on public land, especially in the city’s beloved lakefront greenbelt.  You can read the FotP statement, in full, after this article.  It contains this provocative blurb: “…the Lucas Museum amounts to yet another cover up by the Emanuel administration–one in which the true motives behind this decision and the true costs to the public have not yet seen the light of day,”

The Chicago Parks District planned to break ground on the $700 million project in a couple of months, but it’s unclear if that goal will be attainable with the project now firmly tied up in court.  The building, which is intended to look like sand dunes, was designed by MAD Studio in Beijing.

Although the massive cost of the building will be picked up by Mr. Lucas and his foundation, FotP and its supporters don’t believe the museum belongs in the Museum Campus with the city’s other major museums.  The museum is paying the Parks District $10 for a 99-year lease on the space.

The city believes that the museum is OK at that location because it’s good for the citizens and the city and for that reason legal opposition to it should be quashed, but the judge didn’t buy that argument.  Instead, he said the FotP suit had some merit, and will be allowed to continue.

 


Statement from Friends of the Parks:

After a court appearance today before U.S. District Court Judge John Darrah, Friends of the Parks’ fight to keep the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art off the lakefront is set to continue.

U.S. District Judge John Darrah today ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, denying the Chicago Park District’s and City of Chicago’s motions to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Parks in federal court challenging the siting of the Lucas Museum on Chicago’s lakefront public parkland.

“We are very pleased that the District Court is allowing the case to proceed,” said Lauren Moltz, Friends of the Parks board chair. “We are thrilled to finally have the opportunity to depose the City and the Park District and fully make our case.”

Friends of the Parks will now be able to move forward with depositions of City of Chicago and Chicago Park District. The judge has declared that the Lucas Museum project cannot break ground until the matter is resolved.

“The effort to give away public lakefront land to build the Lucas Museum amounts to yet another cover up by the Emanuel administration–one in which the true motives behind this decision and the true costs to the public have not yet seen the light of day,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks.

“We think that the sale of the property to George Lucas’ foundation – a lease that could run for 297 years – is a boon not to the public but to Mr. Lucas himself. And this sale is in conflict with the purpose for which the land is held in trust – the express purpose being to preserve the land for the public and future generations as a pristine natural resource,” said Fred Bates, Friends of the Parks board vice-chair and co-chair of the Policy Committee.

Friends of the Parks is supportive of the Lucas Museum coming to Chicago, but the organization continues to oppose its siting on lakefront open space. Long known for its advocacy to keep Chicago’s lakefront “open, clear, and free” per the call of Chicago urban planners and park visionaries of a century ago, the park advocacy group believes that the siting of the Lucas Museum in this lakefront location contradicts the public trust doctrine and its central principle that the general public is the beneficiary of this public lakefront parkland.
“This is not a new issue given Friends of the Parks’ mission and extensive public opposition to the proposed siting of the Chicago Children’s Museum in Grant Park, a collaborative battle that we won a number of years ago,” says Lauren Moltz, Friends of the Parks’ board chair. “It’s a slippery slope, and we will continue to defend our lakefront from encroachment.”

Friends of the Parks maintains that although the proposed site is now used as a parking lot, its future reversion to parkland is possible. Once a building is in place, it is forever precluded from being public open space. The organization would rather see the City and the Chicago Park District work toward seum amounts to yet another cover up by the Emanuel administration–one in which the true motives behind this decision and the true costs to the public have not yet seen the light of day,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks.

“We think that the sale of the property to George Lucas’ foundation – a lease that could run for 297 years – is a boon not to the public but to Mr. Lucas himself. And this sale is in conflict with the purpose for which the land is held in trust – the express purpose being to preserve the land for the public and future generations as a pristine natural resource,” said Fred Bates, Friends of the Parks board vice-chair and co-chair of the Policy Committee.

Friends of the Parks is supportive of the Lucas Museum coming to Chicago, but the organization continues to oppose its siting on lakefront open space. Long known for its advocacy to keep Chicago’s lakefront “open, clear, and free” per the call of Chicago urban planners and park visionaries of a century ago, the park advocacy group believes that the siting of the Lucas Museum in this lakefront location contradicts the public trust doctrine and its central principle that the general public is the beneficiary of this public lakefront parkland.
“This is not a new issue given Friends of the Parks’ mission and extensive public opposition to the proposed siting of the Chicago Children’s Museum in Grant Park, a collaborative battle that we won a number of years ago,” says Lauren Moltz, Friends of the Parks’ board chair. “It’s a slippery slope, and we will continue to defend our lakefront from encroachment.”

Friends of the Parks maintains that although the proposed site is now used as a parking lot, its future reversion to parkland is possible. Once a building is in place, it is forever precluded from being public open space. The organization would rather see the City and the Chicago Park District work toward the vision cast by Skidmore, Owing & Merrill for a “Burnham Sanctuary”—19 acres of parkland that would encompass the site in question.

As Friends of the Parks has recommended previously, the organization hopes that Mr. Lucas will reconsider and locate his museum just a ½ mile south on the west side of Lake Shore Drive on the former Michael Reese Hospital site. The Reese site would allow the Museum Campus to be expanded to the south and bring needed economic development benefits to the Bronzeville community.

“We stand on the shoulders of Chicago entrepreneur of a century ago–Aaron Montgomery Ward–who made the
protection of our lakefront his labor of love. He spent many decades and a small fortune saving Grant Park from development, yet his efforts were not widely appreciated in his time,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. “Regardless of the Lucas Museum outcome, we will honor this legacy and continue to push back against development along Chicago’s lakefront so that many more generations to come will know this jewel that, unfortunately, so many take for granted.”

Friends of the Parks is a 40 year old non-profit parks advocacy group whose mission is to preserve protect, improve, and promote the use of Chicago’s parks and open spaces. We advance our programmatic, educational, and advocacy work with the support of our members, donors and volunteers, and through our governmental, community, corporate, and environmental partnerships.

Location: 1559 South Lake Shore Drive, South Loop

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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