Site Wars: Ruling May Cause Lucas Museum to Flee Chicago

Site Wars: Ruling May Cause Lucas Museum to Flee Chicago

by JOHN GREGERSON | Feb 19, 2016

The Force may not be so strong with this one, after all.

Suggesting that life is too short for legal wrangling, George Lucas, the 71-year-old creator of the popular Star Wars movie franchise and the man behind the proposed $300-million Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Chicago's lakefront, may have had enough.

In a Feb. 17 status hearing, city attorney Brian Sieve told U.S. District Judge John Darrah that Lucas and his colleagues are now considering other locations for the privately funded facility, following Darrah's recent ruling that a 2014 lawsuit seeking to halt the project can, in fact, proceed. As a result, the “uncertainty and delay... has caused the Museum to, frankly, consider other cities and other sites that it may relocate to," said Sieve. "That may put the entire project in jeopardy.” 

The hearing had sought to lift an injunction barring construction of the Museum until the suit, filed by Chicago-based Friends of the Park, is resolved. But on Feb. 4, Judge Darrah ruled that the citizens group had made a persuasive case that private development of the 17-acre site, between Soldier Field and the McCormick Place Convention Center, would "impair public interest in the land... and promote private and/or commercial interests." 

"Not the site you're looking for?" The futuristic Lucas Museum's proposed prime location would conveniently put it near both Soldier Field (at right) and the McCormick Place Convention Center. The design and lakeside site have drawn both criticism and a legal challenge, respectively. Now, the owner may take the project "far, far away."

"Not the site you're looking for?" The futuristic Lucas Museum's proposed prime location would conveniently put it near both Soldier Field (at right) and the McCormick Place Convention Center. The design and lakeside site have drawn both criticism and a legal challenge, respectively. Now, the owner may take the project "far, far away."

Hobson's choice? Lucas & Mellody

Hobson's choice? Lucas & Mellody

Following the decision, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel indicated he wouldn't rule out alternative sites for the museum, but first would consult with Lucas' wife, Mellody Hobson, a Chicago native who is spearheading the project. The suit contends it would violate a 100-year-old public trust doctrine, which entrusts the State of Illinois with all formerly submerged lake bed land. Friends of the Park also claim that giving Lucas 17 acres of public land would clearly violate a long-standing ordinance that protects public property from private development.

During the Feb.17 hearing, the city argued the preliminary injunction halting construction of the museum was issued before Chicago's City Council and Park District had approved the project.

The loss... would deprive the city of a more beneficial use for the museum site than as an asphalt parking lot
— Brian Sieve, City of Chicago

Since then, museum planners have secured “all appropriate approvals to proceed,” the city indicated in a filing contending that, as the project's last remaining obstacle, the injunction, “threatens the very public interest it is bound to protect. The loss... would deprive the city of a world-class museum and all the attendant educational, cultural and economic benefits, as well as depriving the city of a more beneficial use for the museum site than [its current status] as an asphalt parking lot.”

Judge Darrah concluded the hearing by indicating he would consider allowing preliminary site work to proceed if the city and Friends of the Park could reach an agreement on the issue. Meantime, the judge said he will rule by April 21 on the city's request to break ground on the project.

Museum officials initially had intended to begin construction in Chicago this spring. Lucas had proposed siting the museum in Chicago after San Francisco officials denied his proposal to construct it on a site overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.

Windowless design: Unveiled in late 2014, the design by China's Ma Yansong has been slow to win over fans. The design team soon grew to include VOA, the architect of record, plus Studio Gang and SCAPE Landscape Architecture.

Windowless design: Unveiled in late 2014, the design by China's Ma Yansong has been slow to win over fans. The design team soon grew to include VOA, the architect of record, plus Studio Gang and SCAPE Landscape Architecture.

For more on the Lucas Museum and the issues and players involved, click here.

Google+ Google+