Lucas Museum ‘Seriously Pursuing Locations Outside of Chicago’

Friends of the Parks pauses lawsuit, opposes any lakefront site

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is “seriously pursuing locations outside of Chicago,” according to a strongly worded statement by Mellody Hobson, wife of movie mogul George Lucas and board member of the Lucas Museum.

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“If the museum is forced to leave, it will be because of the Friends of the Parks and that is no victory for anyone," Hobson said in the statement.

"My husband and I have worked in earnest for two years, side-by-side with every relevant city agency, community leader, and policy maker, to give what would be the largest philanthropic gift to an American city in the 21st century. From the beginning, this process has been co-opted and hijacked by a small special interest group,” the statement reads. 

Read: Mellody Hobson's full statement in response to opposition of museum proposals by preservation group Friends of the Parks.

Hobson’s statement comes in response to opposition by preservation group Friends of the Parks to any lakefront location for the Lucas Museum, including the site recently proposed at McCormick Place East.

“We are still in conversations with the city, but we fundamentally believe we should not have development on the lakefront,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. “Meaning, we disagree with the city that the McCormick Place East site is the appropriate site for the Lucas Museum.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the group stated it had agreed to a request from the city of Chicago to pause its lawsuit over the construction of the Lucas Museum. The group had argued that the proposed 17-acre lakefront site for the museum, just south of Soldier Field, violates the state's public trust doctrine, which Irizarry says applies to the McCormick Place East location as well.

Asked if a similar lawsuit could be filed against the McCormick Place East location, Irizarry said, “We’re keeping all of our options open.”

“From the beginning, this process has been co-opted and hijacked by a small special interest group.”

–Statement from Mellody Hobson

On Monday, the city filed a motion for a 30-day stay on the lawsuit, stating they are exploring the possibility of locating the museum at the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place East. Under this plan, which was first floated in April, the Lakeside Center would be demolished and the Lucas Museum built at the south end. 

The stay, the city says, would allow stakeholders to see whether the Illinois General Assembly will pass legislation that is required for the plan to move forward before the current session ends on May 31.

In a statement issued early Tuesday morning, Friends of the Parks said it informed U.S. District Court Judge John Darrah of its decision to agree to the stay. 

“We acquiesced because the city is now prioritizing another site. Any stay still enables us to reinstate the lawsuit, if necessary,” the statement reads. “Meanwhile, the stay gives all parties the opportunity to have a more direct and productive dialogue to reach a potential solution about a museum site. We support such an open forum.”

According to the city, building the museum at the McCormick Place East site would create an additional 12 acres of parkland. 

“We like more parkland, but we don’t want to be put in the position to be forced to choose between parkland and preserving our lakefront which we care about,” Irizarry said. “It’s our job to work toward both of these things and this situation seeks to put us in a bind which we refuse to be in.”

“We fundamentally believe we should not have development on the lakefront.”

–Juanita Irizarry, Friends of the Parks

Irizarry believes the city could have additional alternatives to the original plan and what Hobson referred to in her statement as a "feasible solution" at McCormick Place East.

“If you asked us a month ago, I would not have been able to imagine the city would have an alternative site to the one adjacent to Soldier Field. We would like to believe they have another alternative site [to McCormick Place East],” she said. “They’d like us to believe that there is not another option than a lakefront site. Clearly they came up with this [McCormick Place East] site, it took some creativity when it became clear that the site adjacent to Soldier Field was not an option. We encourage more creativity so we can all come to an agreement.”

Friends of the Parks has repeatedly suggested the city consider locating the museum on the site of the former Michael Reese Hospital. But Irizarry says “they continue to maintain they don’t want a site other than a lakefront site.”

In response to Friends of the Parks’ comments, city of Chicago spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said, “We're disappointed and baffled at Friends of the Parks' comments, which are contradictory to the decision they made less than 24 hours ago to stay the lawsuit. Friends of the Parks has taken inconsistent and incoherent positions, making it impossible to work with them.” 

The two parties were scheduled for a hearing in court Tuesday, but that has been moved to May 10.

Follow Kristen Thometz on Twitter: @kristenthometz

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