This morning, the activist group Friends of the Parks put out a statement telling the world that it has stayed its lawsuit opposing the construction of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on a parking lot south of Soldier Field. The move comes after Mayor Rahm Emanuel posited that it might be possible to demolish the McCormick Place convention center’s Lakeside Center building and put the museum there.
The group was very specific in noting that this is only a stay — a pause. It can resume the lawsuit again whenever it wants to.
Friends of the Parks is backing off because the McCormick Place concept shows the city is open to other locations besides the lakefront parking lot. Its offering three alternatives it finds acceptable:
- Suspended above the train tracks at 18th and Moe
- The former Michael Reese Hospital site ten blocks further south
- The truck parking lot south of McCormick Place, north of 31st Street
The most intriguing option is the 18th and Moe location. And not just because we like saying “18th and Moe.” It’s because it retains much of the the original location advantage of the parking lot site: It has great access by car, it’s walking distance for the McCormick Place conventioneers, it’s downtown enough to draw at least some of the city’s average tourists, it requires minimal changes to CTA bus routes, and best of all — it’s own train station.
Even though visually the property looks like an active rail line, it’s actually already been zoned for development for years. It’s part of Planned Developments 331, 499, and possibly 883. All of which intended to build something suspended above the train tracks already.
The neighbors may not like the idea of sharing their backyard with tens of thousands of tourists, but then again, maybe they think a museum is a better neighbor than the noise of dozens of daily commuter trains, which would be squelched under the museum.
The downside is that MAD Architects in Beijing would have some serious redesigning to do. You can’t just take the old building and plop it on a couple of two-by-fours and prop it up on the embankment. Plus there is the complexity of getting the air from the developers who own it right now, who were planning on putting up fancy expensive condos. That’s going to cost more than the $10 originally budgeted for the parking lot.
All of this takes time, and Chicago is already on notice that time is running out. Contrary to what the naysayers say, there are lots of other cities that would bend over backwards to land the Lucas museum. Remember, Chicago was not the first choice. And Mr. Lucas may find a second choice location in San Francisco preferable to a second choice location in Chicago. His priority isn’t the minutiae of dealing with self-important neighborhood groups. It’s getting a museum built before he dies. He’s willing to spend $700 million to get it done, whether it’s in Chicago or San Francisco or Los Angeles.
You can read the full press release from Friends of the Parks below:
Friends of the Parks has agreed with the City of Chicago’s request that we stay our pending lawsuit to stop construction of George Lucas’ lakefront museum on the proposed site adjacent to Soldier Field. The City has informed U.S. District Court John Darrah of that. We acquiesced because the city is now prioritizing another site. Any stay still enables us to reinstate the lawsuit, if necessary.
Meanwhile, the stay gives all parties the opportunity to have a more direct and productive dialogue to reach a potential solution about a museum site. We support such an open forum.
Friends of the Parks is willing to work collaboratively with the Lucas Museum, the Mayor’s Office, the Chicago Park District, the community and our open space partners to find an alternative site that isn’t on
the lakefront or on a site that shrinks the city’s public open space.
Already, we have met with several of the museum’s central participants, including Mellody Hobson, on behalf of her husband George Lucas; Chicago’s deputy mayor and general counsel; and Father Michael Pfleger on a museum’s impact on jobs and the economy, among other parties.
From any multilateral discussions, we seek this:
The active and serious investigation of other possible non-lakefront sites that include, among
others, the former Michael Reese Hospital property; the site at 18th street across from the original location and across Lake Shore Drive, and the marshalling yards west of McCormick Place for trucks and recreational vehicles.
A strong grasp of the impact the museum would have on jobs, particularly to South Side residents;
tourism and the economy in general; taxes and other costs to Chicago residents; and educational benefits.
Clear specifics about any proposed site and plan that promises to generate the most viability and
create more park space for Chicago residents and visitors to enjoy.
As a strong steward of Chicago and a partner to its progress, Friends of the Parks understands and appreciates the benefits to jobs and to the city’s economy that tourist attractions such as the proposed Lucas Museum deliver, especially to the city’s South Side. As a public policy organization, we encourage fruitful discussions about such benefits that go beyond park-related issues.
At the same time and to be clear, our 40-year-old organization reaffirms our enduring commitment and mission “to preserve, protect, promote and improve the use of our parks and open spaces throughout the Chicago area for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors.”
We have an absolute duty to fight to uphold the Public Trust Doctrine that requires the welfare of the public over the benefit of others as it applies to the use of land created by the infill of Lake Michigan.