Controversy over Lucas Museum continues

LMNA rendering

by Constantina Kokenes

Plans to build the large Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Chicago’s lakefront near McCormick Place have been controversial since filmmaker George Lucas decided to place his museum in Chicago last June. Though lawsuits have been filed, the museum was not a major issue in this month’s aldermanic campaigns. Candidates for alderman in the 4th Ward, where the museum would be built, vary in their response to the museums.

The candidates touched on the issue during their campaigns before Tuesday’s elections.

“If we continue to give up public land for private usage, where or when will it stop?”

– Norman Bolden, 4th Ward alderman candidate

Although elections have ended, conversation is still hoped for by the winning candidate.

Deputy campaign manager and senior strategist for alderman candidate Tracey Bey objectively looked at the museum’s possible lakefront location.

“Any time we have a chance to showcase Chicago is great,” Paul Ogwal, 32, said. “But I think we also need to be mindful of where we build structures and how it affects the overall community.”

Ogwal believes rather than a filing a lawsuit, the importance lies in conversation.

“We still need to look for other options to place the museum,” Ogwal said. “Let’s bring Friends of the Parks together, let’s bring community members, let’s bring those involved with the museum and talk about the pros and cons.”

Ogwal believes open forums for discussion of the location are vital when choosing the location.

“It’s not a museum for the alderman. It’s not for the 4th ward. It’s not for the mayor,” Ogwal said. “It’s going to affect the community, so we really need to hear that voice.”

Although he could not be reached for comment, current Alderman Will Burns has supported the museum in the past. Burns won the aldermanic race Tuesday with 55 percent of the vote.

“The Lucas Museum will be a great addition to Chicago’s popular museum campus,” Burns said in a press release issued by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s office in June. “It will complement the city’s offering of educational resources and provide meaningful opportunities for community partnerships, serving as valued asset, not only to its neighbors but to the city at large.”

Lucas Museum timeline
The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art has been in the works since June 2014. Opposition of the possible location has temporarily halted construction. (NASA, Constantina Kokenes/Medill)

On the other hand, alderman candidate Normal Bolden vehemently opposes the proposed lakefront location, agreeing with the Friends of the Parks lawsuit.

“I am not in support of private entities utilizing public land for private [innovation],” Bolden said.

However, he said the larger issue is the closed-doors decision-making.

“There must be inclusion. There must be conversation with the community,” Bolden said. “It’s public land. The public has to be a part of the process, and that is one big issue that we have currently in the 4th ward.”

Bolden suggested the museum relocate to space owned by the city rather than the state. He said that choosing the lakefront could lead to harsh, unforeseeable consequences.

“If we continue to give up public land for private usage,” he said, “where or when will it stop?”

The museum’s projected location between McCormick Place and Soldier Field faces opposition with some Chicago residents, most notably the group Friends of the Parks.

Friends of the Parks filed a federal lawsuit in November against the city to prevent building the museums on the lakefront. The group could not be reached for comment, but in the past, it has opposed the location, not the museum itself. The lawsuit argues the lakefront is public property owned by the state of Illinois and cannot be turned over to a private operator.

Friends of the Parks filed a lawsuit against the city in early November 2014. The group advocates its opposition to the possible location rather than the museum itself. The lawsuit is met with opposition and threats of moving the museum to California. (Crain’s Chicago, Constantina Kokenes/Medill)

A first opening hearing of the lawsuit is scheduled for Thursday, March 12. A federal judge will rule on City Hall’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Press contact for the museum, Kate LeFurgy, had no comment about the lawsuit.

“We remain committed and focused to Chicago,” LeFurgy said.

Despite the museum’s continued interest in the Windy City, neither the museum nor city officials have initiated public discussion about the location.

When asked if it was possible for the museum to be moved elsewhere in Chicago, LeFurgy had no comment.

Photo at top: South view rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Museum Campus. The museum’s projected opening is 2018-19. (LMNA)