CHICAGO (CBS) — Advocates for green space in Chicago said they support having Star Wars creator George Lucas build an interactive museum to house his extensive art collection in Chicago, but they don’t want it on the Museum Campus as a mayoral task force has suggested.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the Friends of the Parks want the city and Lucas to instead consider building the museum at the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 2900 S. Ellis Av., or another location in the city.
“We are very much looking forward to working with the city and Mr. Lucas to find an alternative site,” Friends of the Parks CEO Cassandra Francis said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday that Lucas has chosen Chicago for his museum, which a mayoral task force recommended be built on the city’s lakefront Museum Campus – on land between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, replacing two surface parking lots.
The Friends of the Parks have said building the Lucas museum at that site would violate the Lakefront Plan of Chicago, passed by the City Council more than 40 years ago. The plan prohibits further private development east of Lake Shore Drive.
Francis said her group supports bringing the Lucas museum to Chicago, just not on existing park land or other open public space. She said the Reese Hospital site would allow the city to redevelop a site that has long sat unused, while still offering views of the lake — only from west of Lake Shore Drive.
She said Friends of the Parks would do whatever is necessary – including file a lawsuit – to keep the Lucas museum off protected lakefront land.
“This situation is about giving public land for a private development use,” she said.
Francis said her phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from volunteers willing to fight placement of the Lucas museum on protected lakefront land.
The existing buildings on the Museum Campus — including the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field, and McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center — all were built before the lakefront protection ordinance barred anymore private development east of Lake Shore Drive, though Soldier Field underwent a major renovation in 2003.
According to Francis, the Museum Campus site for the Lucas museum not only would violate the lakefront protection ordinance, it would be a bad money move for Lucas, who has offered to pay to move the two existing parking lots underground, and build additional underground parking for the museum.
“I believe, just based on some information that I have from some local contractors, that given the water table height there and the environmental contamination that is in place, that a permanent dewatering that would be necessary … would blow through probably half of his building budget,” she said.
Francis also said it would be very costly to maintain a dewatering system to keep water out once the museum were built.
She noted the city has long tried to find a way to redevelop the vacant Reese Hospital site, most prominently when former Mayor Richard M. Daley was bidding for the 2016 Olympic Games. She said the hospital site and a neighboring truck marshalling yard would be a better home for the Lucas museum than protected lakefront property.
Mayor Emanuel says he’s confident that the plan for a George Lucas Museum along the lakefront, will withstand a legal challenge.
“We feel very comfortable from a legal perspective of where we are. It is part of an entire museum campus,” said Emanuel.
The mayor points out with Lucas and wife Chicago businesswoman Melody Hobson footing the entire bill the museum would pump $2 billion into the local economy, creating 1,500 construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs while generating $150 million in taxes a year. Statistics he claims are a force to be reckoned with.
Daley proposed turning the Reese Hospital site into an Olympic Village during the games, then turn the development into rental or condo units. The city ultimately lost the bid for the 2016 Olympics, and much of the hospital has been demolished.
The Reese site has since been proposed as a future home of the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. The Obama Foundation is currently weighing 13 bids for the library and museum, including proposals from the University of Chicago, Chicago State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Hawaii.