The battle over movie mogul George Lucas’ proposed $400 million lakefront museum could go to trial as soon as this fall.
However, U.S. District Judge John Darrah on Wednesday reminded attorneys for the city of Chicago that the controversy could have been resolved much sooner if not for their own delays — including a bid to lift the order preventing work from starting at the site. A trial had been set for March 14.
Lawyers for the city and Friends of the Parks, the group which supports the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art but opposes its location, appeared in Darrah’s courtroom Wednesday.
The judge reviewed the history of the case and told the two sides to return next week with a plan for how it should move forward. He said previous schedules proposed by the city were “manifestly unfair,” and he said “the consequences of doing this wrong are severe.”
City Hall lawyer Brian Sieve said the two sides already have agreed to a schedule offered by Friends of the Parks, and he said his goal is simply to “get this case ready for trial.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering 17 acres of lakefront property south of Soldier Field that is now a parking lot but which Friends of the Parks would like to see restored to greenspace.
Earlier this week, a Far South Side alderman urged the museum to consider building instead on the site of the old U.S. Steel South Works plant. That suggestion from Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), whose ward includes the site, came after a split between the steel giant and a prominent Chicago developer killed plans for a “new city” on the long-vacant site.
Sadlowski-Garza even suggested ferrying visitors to the museum on “a hovercraft like an amusement park ride, shaped like the Millennium Falcon.”
Friends of the Parks has urged Lucas to consider building on the west side of Lake Shore Drive on a deck above rail yards — similar to the way Millennium Park was built.
Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks has acknowledged that the need to build a deck above rail yards would increase the cost of the legacy project and complicate the logistics. But she said, “Mr. Lucas is a billionaire. He could afford it.”
Irizarry urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Lucas to consider the site change because Darrah had warned City Hall of the risk it would take by breaking ground early — especially if it ultimately loses a court battle over the museum’s location.
“Whatever you’ve done is going to have to be undone at cost to somebody other than the plaintiffs,” Darrah said at the time.
This story was written by Jon Seidel and Fran Spielman