Lucas Museum Passes City Council, Could Break Ground By Spring

No debate over museum plans at Wednesday's council meeting

Rendering of the public plaza for the Lucas Museum (Courtesy of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)Rendering of the public plaza for the Lucas Museum (Courtesy of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)

The force was strong with this one.

City Council voted almost unanimously Wednesday to approve a privately funded lakefront museum from “Star Wars” creator and film mogul George Lucas.

Unlike the mayor's budget, which also passed Wednesday after close to two hours of aldermanic speeches, there was no council debate over the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which saw "no" votes from only nine aldermen, including Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), Ameya Pawar (47th Ward) and Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) among others. Finance chair Edward Burke (14th Ward) was the lone abstention.

The Lucas Museum has long had support from both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District, which owns the land upon which the proposed museum would sit. 

Getting the thumbs up from City Council was the last large hurdle for the museum, which last week was approved by the city Plan Commission and additionally given the go ahead from the Park District, which agreed to lease the desirable lakefront property to the Lucas Museum for $10 over the next 99 years.

The modern-looking museum, which would sit just south of Soldier Field along the lakefront, still faces a lawsuit from Chicago nonprofit Friends of the Parks, which claims the museum and the Park District don’t have the legal right to build on the land.

When asked why there was no public debate at Wednesday's council meeting, Mayor Emanuel said there had already been a series of public hearings and debate around the museum.

"If you look over the last year, there have been a lot of different forums where people could express their opinion," he said.

The mayor then drew an analogy to the budget process. 

"[Council members] may not have agreed with everything, but they know that we have always been open, accessible and ready to answer questions," he said. "And that was true about the process associated with the Lucas Museum."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference following Wednesday's City Council meeting. (Chloe Riley) Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference following Wednesday's City Council meeting. (Chloe Riley)

Friend of the Parks Juanita Irizarry said she's unfazed by Wednesday's vote – the group's executive director said she's already looking ahead to Nov. 10, the next court date concerning the group's lawsuit against the Park District and the museum.   

"We had not been expecting anything other than for City Council to pass whatever the mayor wanted, but we were pleased that a number of aldermen thought it was worthwhile to push back against it," Irizarry said. "I think it's kind of funny that you can spend a couple hours debating how difficult the city's financial situation is, and then with no debate whatsoever vote to pass a project that will give away lakefront land."

Plans for the museum include converting several Soldier Field parking lots into 17 acres of parkland. Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a City Council vote on the museum had been delayed due to Chicago Bears negotiations over the use of that space, including debate about a potential loss of tailgating spots for Bears fans and a separate issue around exactly who’s entitled to the revenue from the proposed Lucas Museum parking lots.

The final proposal passed Wednesday allows for Bears tailgating for 560 cars along a landscaped area just east of the museum. 

To date, the museum’s proposed location has received little outward criticism from public officials. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th Ward) was the lone alderman to vote against the museum’s lakefront location at last week’s city zoning committee hearing. Similarly, on Oct. 15, Commissioner Juan Carlos Linares of the city’s Plan Commission also voted against the proposal, saying the Park District should have gotten a better deal for the land.

The museum's final design plans mark a scaled-back version of the initial proposal. Despite reductions in height and square footage, Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin has likened the futuristic museum's juxtaposition between McCormick Place and Soldier Field to an “intergalactic petting zoo.” Kamin has further argued that the museum’s presence could easily compromise the lakefront's shoreline.