Is Lucas Museum Deal Within Reach?

Could Friends of the Parks drop its lawsuit and strike a deal with the city to allow the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to be built along the lakefront?

Reports that emerged late last week indicated that had indeed happened, but the preservation group promptly issued a statement saying the lawsuit was not being dropped. So what exactly is going on?

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The city, Lucas Museum and Friends of the Parks were to have a hearing in court Wednesday on the lawsuit filed by FOP to block the museum from being built along the lakefront, between Soldier Field and McCormick Place. But the hearing has been delayed until Aug. 11 as both parties have agreed to wait until a federal appeals court rules on a motion to have the lower court dismiss the case. It’s a sort of legal Hail Mary for the city, since the lower court ruled the case had merit to proceed.

We’re told by a source close to the case that there are discussions between the city and Friends of the Parks, and that high-profile civic leaders are involved in mediation to convince FOP to come to a deal to allow the museum to be built along the lakefront.

Friends of the Parks’ executive director Juanita Irizarry insists the lawsuit is still on, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday he believes an agreement can be reached.

“I believe we can achieve common goals of open lands, not just in our park system, but in our lakefront,” Emanuel said. “So we can have a win-win, and I’m committed to hearing people through to do that. People that enjoy museums enjoy open space, and people that enjoy the lakefront and open space also enjoy museums, and hearing each other, we can work towards that goal.”

The likeliest agreement would allow the museum to be built on the parking lot just south of Soldier Field in exchange for the promise of a future teardown of McCormick Place’s Lakeside Center and parkland restoration. It would also call for additional future parkland projects. Reports said the mayor had floated an idea to finish the “final four miles” – aka, to create parkland between Hollywood beach on the city's North Side and Evanston; and south of 79th Street to the southern edge of the lake where the lakefront park system currently ends.

The mayor has also floated a proposal to tear down the Lakeside Center, put the museum there, and turn that parking lot south of Soldier Field into a park.

Discussions center on that possible arrangement and, we're also told, on Friends of the Parks’ involvement in future parkland decisions. We’ve been told, as has been reported, that while there is disagreement among the board members of Friends of the Parks – some want to drop the lawsuit, others don’t – there is no official agreement to actually drop the lawsuit.

Irizarry, Friends of the Parks’ attorney and other board members all offered no comment.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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