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Judge takes city to task again over Lucas Museum

A rendering of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. | Distributed by the Associated Press

A federal judge again chided City Hall lawyers Wednesday for not moving quickly enough to turn documents over to the advocacy group whose lawsuit is blocking construction of movie mogul George Lucas’ proposed $400 million lakefront museum.

Those lawyers want U.S. District Judge John Darrah to lift an order barring construction from beginning at the site — a parking lot south of Soldier Field. But a lawyer for Friends of the Parks complained the group can’t respond to the city’s request and doesn’t know when the city will turn documents over.

“Why don’t you just turn it all over?” Darrah asked the city. “What’s the secret?”

City lawyer Sydney Schneider told the judge it’s moving as fast as it can to respond to Friends of the Parks’ “very broad” document request.

Friends of the Parks supports the museum but it has urged Lucas to build his museum elsewhere. City Hall has warned Chicago is in danger of losing the museum as the lawsuit drags out, but Darrah said earlier this month the lawsuit could have gone to trial as early as next week had it not been for the city’s own delays.

The museum would 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.

At an unrelated news conference Wednesday at CTA headquarters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked why his administration was “dragging its feet” on discovery in the Lucas Museum case.

“I would not describe what we’re doing as dragging [our feet]. If anybody, I’d like to start digging and building in that process. That’s everybody’s desire. That would add to the cultural . . . and educational enrichment of the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

“My goal is to keep the Lucas Museum here in the city of Chicago. We have worked hard at it. It would be an incredible investment in the future of the city of Chicago. And I know that other cities are competing for that opportunity.”

Last week, Emanuel told reporters that the movie mogul of Star Wars fame has his “heart set” on building the museum on 17 acres of the lakefront land. As a result, the mayor said he is now afraid Chicago will lose the coveted prize.

Emanuel said then that Lucas’ hometown of San Francisco “coughed it up” after a federal panel rejected the picturesque Presidio site that was Lucas’ top choice and he fears that Chicago is about to do the same, thanks to a federal judge’s decision to keep alive a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Parks challenging the lakefront land giveaway in Chicago.

Weeks after opening the door to a site change to avoid a protracted legal battle over the lakefront land giveaway, Emanuel hinted strongly that his efforts to convince Lucas and his wife, Chicago businesswoman Mellody Hobson to consider another site have either failed or are not going particularly well.

The mayor refused to identify alternative sites under consideration.

The two sides are due again in court April 12.