About three times a week, Vincent Smith gets his exercise by making the long walk along the Lakefront Trail from his home near 71st to the Loop, then takes a bus back home.
As luck would have it, Smith was just ambling past the parking lot originally chosen as the site for the Lucas Museum when I stepped onto the path Monday in search of someone to talk about the museum proposal.
“I was just thinking about that,” Smith said.
I guess great minds think alike.
And while Smith and I are not entirely of one mind about the Lucas Museum, we are 100 percent in agreement on the most important point.
“It needs to be in Chicago,” the 61-year-old retired laborer said.
We also agree on maybe the second most important point, which is that there was nothing wrong with the location Mayor Rahm Emanuel and filmmaker George Lucas originally picked for the museum — a little used parking lot between Soldier Field and McCormick Place.
“I’m not a big fan of Rahm Emanuel, but I thought he was right when he said: Isn’t the museum campus supposed to be all about the museums?” Smith said.
We’re even in agreement on the point that could soon make our other opinions moot:
“I think we’re going to lose it,” Smith told me.
It certainly seems to be shaping up that way with the Friends of the Parks steadfast in its legal blockade to the use of Lakefront land and with San Francisco rejoining the competition with a waterfront location of its own.
Allowing this museum to slip away because of our collective political impotence would be an extraordinary cultural and economic loss to Chicago — the cultural and economic parts running hand in hand to a degree that I don’t believe is fully appreciated.
This is a city that has become extremely dependent on tourism, an industry that can be fueled by just a great new museum exhibit, let alone a great new museum.
This is so plain to me that I find it incredibly frustrating that I don’t seem to have the words to adequately communicate that point to others, which is why I was hoping an average Chicagoan could help.
“Oh, I have some words, but they’re not printable,” Smith said.
You can see why I liked this guy.
“Don’t be fooled by the hat,” Smith said, which is the first I noticed he was wearing a San Francisco Giants ball cap. A gift from his grandson, he explained.
“I’m a Cubbie,” Smith said, which is where we’ll have to part company.
Smith said he’d been thinking that the mayor should put the museum on Northerly Island, because it “was never parkland anyway.”
I tried to disabuse him of that notion, although it was refreshing that he didn’t try to tell me that’s where the city is going to build a casino. Now that the land has been reclaimed as open space with the removal of Meigs Field, there’s no going back.
But we were of similar minds on Emanuel’s latest idea to switch the museum to the site of the original McCormick Place, known as Lakeside Center, tearing it down and building new convention space across Lake Shore Drive.
“I don’t think tearing this down is the answer,” Smith said. “After all these years, it’s part of Chicago.”
I have similar feelings, although I could support that location. I just think the McCormick Place proposal has too many moving parts, including tax revenue, to be practical. It makes it look like we’d be tearing down Lakeside Center for Lucas, when the truth is the building is a white elephant that the city was already looking for a way to fix up or replace.
Some opponents think they are blocking a Lakefront land grab by an ultra-rich guy trying to satisfy his ego. I think he’s proposing a fair trade — a billion dollar-plus civic donation that will pay dividends for decades into the future.
“People are going to come from all over to see this museum,” Smith said. “It’ll be here long after he’s gone.”
Not if we chase him away.