The board of George Lucas' proposed museum on Wednesday unanimously agreed to take up Chicago's offer of a lakefront site to house the “Star Wars” creator's trove of art and movie memorabilia.
The location south of Soldier Field has already drawn opposition from Friends of the Parks and some aldermen, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he is confident the museum will withstand any legal challenges from open-space advocates who argue that developing that space would violate the city's lakefront protection ordinance.
“We feel very comfortable, from the legal perspective, where we are,” Emanuel said in a news conference after a City Council meeting. “It's part of an entire museum campus.”
Emanuel also reiterated that city taxpayers would not be on the hook for any investment related to the Lucas museum, other than the gift of offering the land to the museum for $1 per year.
“Our contribution is two parking lots,” said Emanuel, who proceeded to tick off his economic estimates of construction jobs, permanent jobs and tax revenue the museum would bring to Chicago.
Emanuel said there would be no other “taxpayer direct” investments in the project but would not rule out the possibility of the city spending money on infrastructure improvements to the Museum Campus as a whole to improve traffic and better connect it to Northerly Island, which the city is redeveloping into parkland.
“Does this give us the opportunity to think about other investments that would open up all four campuses? We're going to look at that,” Emanuel said. “That's what the task force was for, which is how you continue the iterative process with the community. But the contribution to build the museum? George Lucas. Staffing it and the economic opportunities? George Lucas and Mellody Hobson. Directive incentives? No.”
A handful of aldermen, however, are lining up in opposition.
“We keep talking about putting everything into the downtown area around the lakefront,” said Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd. “I know Mr. Lucas wants the water, but you know, for a lot of us, it's why not encourage building a museum, these structures in other parts of the city that could use an economic boost?”
The lack of easy access to the area could lead to traffic nightmares, said Ald. Bob Fioretti, 2nd, whose ward is home to the Museum Campus.
“It's bad planning by the city of Chicago,” he said. “It was bad to offer this.”
Waguespack said the Lucas museum stirs up the same issues that were hotly debated during the tenure of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who wanted to build a new children's museum in Grant Park. Aldermen eventually beat back that proposal, over concerns about building on the parkland. The museum was kept at Navy Pier.
Waguespack said he agreed with Friends of the Parks, which has threatened to file a lawsuit challenging the development of a Lucas museum on the lakefront, arguing it violates the city's lakefront protection ordinance.
Disagreeing was downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, who led the charge against allowing the Chicago Children's Museum in Grant Park several years ago.
Reilly noted that Grant Park is governed by special covenants that specifically prohibit development while “ironically, the land that the Lucas museum would like to occupy was actually created to give us a place to put our museums, because of the protections that govern Grant Park.”
“I think a lot of discussion and work will have to go into how large the profile of the museum on the lakefront, how green the structure could be, and I think as long as they keep it at a relatively low profile, it might be a nice fit” and could satisfy open-space advocates' concerns, he said.
“You've got to remember, what is there today are concrete parking lots — not exactly in the spirit of the lakefront protection ordinance either.”
Waguespack said he believed most aldermen would support the Lucas museum on the proposed site but thought more public discussion should go into such a proposal.
“I think the problem is the location,” Waguespack said. “This shouldn't be a done deal.”
While Reilly said he supports the use of the proposed location for a museum, he said he was withholding his backing for the Lucas project until he sees more details. Designs for the museum are scheduled to be released this fall.
When Emanuel announced Tuesday that Chicago had won the Lucas museum over San Francisco and Los Angeles, he said a solution had been found to address concerns about lost space for tailgating before Bears games.
Asked Wednesday how tailgating would be addressed, Emanuel again did not offer specifics.
“On the times in which there are games there, we will work through the issue on tailgating, so you can have both the museum, open land and the tailgating addressed,” the mayor said.
Asked how that would be possible once the two parking lots south of Soldier Field are eliminated, Emanuel said, “That's what you have smart architects for and designers, and that's what they're going to work for.”
Tribune reporter Melissa Harris contributed.