Compromise or Catastrophe? Latest Lucas Museum Plan Saves Parking Lot, Destroys Lakeside Center

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Once again, the Chicago Sun-Times is out in front on the controversy over the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, planned for Chicago’s lakefront. The newspaper reports that Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to demolish the McCormick Place Lakeside Center, and build the new museum on its foundations.

Rahm is eager to move the project forward because Hollywood director George Lucas is getting itchy feet. There are reports that he’s considering moving the $700 million museum project to Los Angeles if Chicago can’t get its act together.

Mr. Lucas is willing to pay for the cost of building the museum, if the city ponies up the land. The city originally wanted the museum to replace a parking lot near Soldier Field. But that notion is tied up in the courts by Friends of the Park, which believes using the parking lot for a museum sets a precedent for using public lakefront land for a private purpose.

McCormick Place - Chicago, Illinois - July, 2009 - 008aThe 300,000 square-foot Lakeside Center opened in 1971 as a replacement for the original 1960 convention hall which burned down just seven years after it opened. The new building was designed by Gene Summers of C.F. Murphy and Associates. Its design and location has been the subject of some controversy over the years. While Mr. Summers has a pedigree which includes working in Mies van der Rohe’s office, the building has been criticized for being too big, too dark, and isolating the South Loop neighborhood from Lake Michigan.

The Sun-Times report includes two upsides for replacing the Lakeside Center with the Lucas Museum. First, it reduces the overall cost of the museum because some of the infrastructure from the current convention building could be reused. And second, it would create an additional 12 acres of parkland along the lakefront. Far more additional green space than would be created by removing the Soldier Field parking lot.

So far, the organization that has apparently scuttled the original Lucas Museum plan hasn’t dismissed the mayor’s new proposal out of hand. Lauren Moltz, of Friends of the parks issued this statement:

“Friends of the Parks appreciates that the City of Chicago finally reached out to us yesterday with the mayor’s new idea for the Lucas Museum. We will discuss and analyze this new information while we review the discovery materials we also just received from the City this week. Friends of the Parks will continue in our commitment to preserve, protect, promote and improve the use of our parks and in our historic role in upholding the principles that have fostered the jewel of a lakefront that we all enjoy.”

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Location: 2301 South Lake Shore Drive, South Loop

Author: Editor

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

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