Chicago’s Lucas Museum Hits Roadblock With Local Park Preservation Group

Looks like this spring's groundbreaking may no longer happen.

Rendering for the new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Chicago. Courtesy of MAD Architects.

George Lucas.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

After months of back and forth, legendary filmmaker and Star Wars creator George Lucas finally selected Chicago over San Francisco and Los Angeles as the site of his forthcoming Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in June 2014. But he may be regretting that decision now that the museum is mired in a legal battle that threatens to derail the project entirely.

The Chicago Tribune reports that US District Judge John Darrah ruled yesterday to allow a suit by Friends of the Parks, a local park preservation group hoping to prevent the museum from breaking ground this spring.

According to Friends of the Park, the planned museum would violate the state’s public trust laws. The land slated to house the institution, which is nestled between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, is technically held in the public trust, as it is formerly part of Lake Michigan. According to the public trust doctine, all formerly submerged lands must be maintained for public use.

According to the group, building the museum on the 17 acres of waterfront land, “effectively surrenders control” of the property to the institution, which is a private entity and not necessarily for the benefit of the public, but rather in pursuit of commercial interests.

“Let’s use the lakefront for what it is meant for,” Friends of the Parks attorney Tom Geoghegan told the Tribune. “We don’t think this building is appropriate on the lakefront.”

Rendering for the new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Chicago. Photo: MAD Architects.

Rendering for the new Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Chicago.
Photo: MAD Architects.

“[P]laintiffs sufficiently plead that the ground lease effectively surrenders control of the museum site and places the public land ‘entirely beyond the direction and control of the state,'” the judge said in his decision.

The 300,000-square-foot Lucas Museum, which is privately funded and will cost over $300 million to build, has the approval of the Chicago City Council, the Plan Commission, and the Chicago Park District. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has supported the project from the get-go.

Ironically, Lucas chose Chicago over San Francisco after years of what he termed “doodling around” by the California city while Chicago aggressively pursued the project. A lawyer for the city’s law department told the Tribune that they are currently reviewing the judge’s ruling.

Construction, which was slated to begin this spring, cannot start until the lawsuit has been settled.

A status hearing is scheduled for February 17, and a bench trial in the case has been set for March 14.

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