City Hall: Chicago may lose Lucas Museum, asks judge to let work begin

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City Hall warned Tuesday the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art may abandon Chicago as it asked a federal judge to lift an order barring any work on the proposed site south of Soldier Field.

Lawyers for the city and the Chicago Park District asked U.S. District Judge John Darrah to decide by March 16 whether to lift his previous order and allow work at the site. The same judge kept alive a lawsuit this month filed by Friends of the Parks, which opposes the location but supports the museum, referred to in court filings as the LMNA.

“The resulting delay and uncertainty of this litigation now puts the entire project at risk because the LMNA may choose to leave Chicago and relocate to another city,” city lawyers wrote in a court filing.

Those lawyers wrote that the dispute over the museum is, at its heart, a question over who decides what is in the public interest: the Illinois General Assembly or a federal court. Lawmakers have passed legislation designed to eliminate the lawsuit’s central argument, allowing construction on formerly submerged land that was once part of Lake Michigan.

“The site can hardly be characterized as a natural wonder of the State of Illinois,” city lawyers wrote. “Nor is it home to any historic buildings. Rather, the site is currently occupied by an asphalt parking lot. It is hard to imagine how the loss of a parking lot could ever be irreparable injury, and it certainly would not be so here.”

In his ruling earlier this month, Darrah lent new credibility to park activists’ claims that a 99-year lease “effectively surrenders control” of prime lakefront property to the museum, and that the museum “is not for the benefit of the public,” but would “promote private and/or commercial interests.”

Chicago offered the lakefront site land to the privately financed museum, George Lucas’ brainchild. It will include up to 300,000 square feet of exhibition space — 100,000 square feet less than originally planned for the futuristic structure designed by Chinese architect Ma Yansong.

Plans also include nearly 5 acres of green space to be divided between a garden, an event prairie, an eco-park and a dune field.

In exchange for losing Soldier Field’s South Parking Lot to the museum, the Chicago Bears bargained hard for a host of marketing and advertising opportunities that could go a long way toward financing stadium upgrades. Sources have said the capital projects were viewed as so essential, the marketing agreement will live on regardless of whether the Lucas Museum is ever built.

Ma has called his conceptual design for a flowing white sculptural building topped by a Saturn-like floating ring of an observation deck a “new type of architecture for the world.”

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