Opposition to George Lucas’s Chicago Museum Mounts

A lawsuit and campaign contributions threaten the museum's construction.

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

When George Lucas selected Chicago as the home for his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (LMNA), it seemed to offer resolution to a three-city bidding war that had gone on for months. Instead, it appears to have opened up a whole new can of worms, with a lawsuit seeking to block construction and allegations of impropriety against Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as reported by the International Business Times.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, preservationist group Friends of the Parks claimed that the building site is a reclaimed waterway, formed from landfill dumped in the lake, and is therefore subject to a public trust doctrine that states that all submerged lands must be maintained for public use. In the past, the group has made several arguments opposing the museum’s construction (see “Chicago Bears Fans Vow to Stop George Lucas Museum“). Initially, they cited a city ordinance meant to ensure that the land adjacent to Lake Michigan is reserved for public use. (Local football fans are also anti-LMNA, as the museum would displace pre-game tailgaters.)

And then there’s the issue with the mayor. When Lucas made his choice in June (see “George Lucas Snubs San Francisco, Picks Chicago for Art Museum“), Emanuel insisted that the museum’s planned site was “consistent with the lake protection act that exists,” according to the Chicago Sun Times. (The institution will be an addition to the existing lakeside museum campus that includes the Field Museum, the John G. Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium.) Emanuel offered Lucas a very nice deal on a lease of the property: $1 per year.


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

Now, there is speculation that Emanuel was inclined to offer Lucas that sweet deal because he had gotten $50,000 in campaign contributions from the wife of the Star Wars director, Chicago-native Mellody Hobson. The mayor also received $13,800 from executives from the Walt Disney Company, which now owns Lucasfilm and the director’s lucrative “Star Wars” franchise.

Was Emanuel influenced in the institution’s favor? At a Chicago Ideas Week forum last month, Lucas claimed that when plans to build at his preferred site in San Francisco fell through, Hobson told her husband, “Don’t worry. I’ll talk to the mayor.” Emanuel also attended the couple’s wedding last summer.

Of course, there could be more than campaign dollars at play—perhaps Lucas is strong in the force. More likely, however, the mayor just recognized a great opportunity for the city of Chicago. As a disappointed San Francisco mayor Edwin Lee said in June, “these opportunities to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in private and philanthropic investment to create new public amenities for arts and education, as Mr. Lucas had proposed, come along rarely.”

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