As Lucas Museum Eyes Other Locations, City Pushes for Construction to Begin

The saga continues for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

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During a Wednesday court hearing, an attorney representing the city of Chicago said museum officials are considering other locations, including other cities for the project.

“Uncertainty and delay … has caused the museum to, frankly, consider other cities and other sites that it may relocate to and that may put the entire project in jeopardy,” attorney Brian Sieve said, according to a Chicago Tribune article.

Sieve would not answer questions about which cities the museum was considering, the article goes on to say. Sieve and the city’s Law Department had yet to respond to requests for comment by this story’s publication. A spokesperson for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art declined to comment.

Following Wednesday’s court hearing, Friends of the Parks, the preservation group which filed a lawsuit against the city regarding the museum’s lakefront location, issued a statement.

“We have already learned through discovery that the city only offered one potential site to the Lucas Museum,” said Juanita Irizarry, Friends of the Parks’ executive director. “It would be a shame if the city lost this opportunity because the mayor didn’t seriously make an effort to find a site that is not subject to 100-year old public trust doctrine making it illegal to build on the lakefront.”

The nonprofit organization has previously recommended the museum be built on the former Michael Reese Hospital site, which is located a half-mile south of the proposed location adjacent to Soldier Field, on the west side of Lake Shore Drive.

While Friends of the Parks isn't aware of other potential sites that the city is considering, Irizarry says they are starting to hear why the city doesn’t want to utilize the old Michael Reese Hospital site.

“One piece we’ve heard about is the debt associated with that site, and I think that speaks to a fundamental disagreement on what’s appropriate,” she said. “The mayor’s promise is that he doesn’t want taxpayers to have to pay the cost, which is a great idea. We think the city should’ve charged Mr. Lucas for the purchase of the land, and the mayor doesn’t really want to use the Michael Reese site because of the cost. Mr. Lucas should eat the cost, not the taxpayers. Why are we giving away public assets when the city is in such a dire financial situation?”

On Tuesday, the city of Chicago filed a motion asking U.S. Judge John Darrah to dissolve an injunction that prevents the museum from being built while the lawsuit against the museum proceeds. In other words, the city wants to start construction on the museum while the lawsuit against the Lucas Museum winds its way through the court. The city argues the injunction could cost Chicago the museum.

“The preliminary injunction thus threatens the very public interest it is bound to protect: the loss of the LMNA 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 the current asphalt parking lot,” the Tuesday filing states.

“We think it’s a little odd and we look forward to hearing what the judge has to say about it ultimately,” Irizarry said of Tuesday’s filing. “It does seem like the judge’s remarks today are similar in that it probably doesn’t make sense to start construction until the whole matter is resolved in court.”

Darrah said he’d rule by April 21 on the city’s request to lift an order barring construction on the $400 million, 300,000-square-foot museum to be designed by architect Ma Yansong that includes a library, gallery and several theaters.

“Whatever you’ve done is going to have to be undone at a cost to somebody other than the plaintiffs,” Darrah is quoted as saying in the Chicago Sun-Times regarding proposed construction, although no construction has been completed.

“We think it’s a tragic waste of money for the city to start doing work that the city will have to pay for,” Irizarry said, adding that while the ground lease for the museum precludes the Chicago Park District from spending money on the project it doesn’t say the same for the city of Chicago. “If Mr. Lucas would like to waste his money, that’s on him. We’re going to continue to fight very hard to prevent any construction from happening before this case is settled.”

According to the Sun-Times, "Chicago Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey denied after Wednesday’s hearing that taxpayers would be on the hook if work began early and the city ultimately lost the case.”

Follow Kristen Thometz on Twitter: @kristenthometz

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