City wants to put Lucas Museum lawsuit on hold

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A rendering of what the Lucas Museum would look like at a proposed site at McCormick Place East.

The city wants to put a 30-day hold on the federal lawsuit delaying movie mogul George Lucas’ lakefront museum to see if a compromise plan can gain traction in Springfield.

A mayoral compromise was pitched after City Hall warned earlier this year that Chicago was in danger of losing the Lucas Museum while a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Parks dragged out. The city asked a federal judge in February to lift an order barring any work on a previous proposed site, south of Soldier Field. The same judge had issued a ruling keeping the lawsuit alive.

Now city lawyers are seeking a 30-day stay on the federal lawsuit to see if the General Assembly can pass legislation supporting the compromise by May 31. They said such a bill, as well as general support for the plan, “should moot the present litigation.” Attorneys in the case are next expected to appear before U.S. District Judge John Darrah on May 10.

Lawyers for the Friends of the Parks have agreed to the stay, according to the city’s court filing.

The parks advocacy group’s lawyers could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new plan for the Lucas Museum calls for tearing down the above-ground portion of McCormick Place East, building the museum on a portion of the site that includes Arie Crown Theater, and replacing the lost convention space by building a $500 million McCormick Place expansion over Martin Luther King Drive. The plan also includes 12 acres of new parkland that would be owned by the Chicago Park District but maintained at the cost of the Lucas Museum for 99 years, records show.

Read more about the Lucas Museum

Earlier Monday, Emanuel refused to say whether his old friend, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, had privately agreed to sign on to the mayor’s Hail-Mary plan to demolish McCormick Place East to make way for Lucas’ museum.

The complex and controversial plan would require Rauner, Democratic legislative leaders and an Illinois General Assembly embroiled in a marathon budget stalemate to extend the life of five tourism taxes and authorize $1.2 billion in new borrowing for a Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

“We’re working through a number of issues. … Let me suggest you ask the governor whether he’s in favor of it or not — if you get him,” the mayor said.

The governor’s office said the mayor’s plan was still “under review” as political horse-trading intensifies in the final weeks of the spring legislative session in Springfield.

Emanuel argued once again that the Lucas museum would be a “major, major attraction educationally, culturally and economically” to bring people from around the world to Chicago.

“I don’t want to see people go to see the Lucas museum in Los Angeles or San Francisco. I want `em to come to the city of Chicago, create the jobs here the educational and cultural enrichment here,” the mayor said.

“We’ve lured ‘em away from San Francisco. The state has a role to play in keeping them here rather than having them go. I know the state has to work through some issues. [But], we have ‘em here. It is important that we keep them here.”

With Los Angeles and Lucas’ home town of San Francisco poised to pounce, sources said the movie mogul of Star Wars fame is prepared to wait until the end of the spring session, but not much longer than that.

If the General Assembly doesn’t approve Emanuel’s back-up plan by May 31 — and that’s a long-shot considering the marathon budget stalemate — Lucas is likely to pick up stakes and take his legacy project back to the West Coast.

That’s where it was before a San Francisco commission rejected Lucas preferred Presidio site on federal parkland.

Friends of the Parks did not automatically dismiss the proposed compromise or threaten to file a new lawsuit. Hearings in the case have been repeatedly delayed in recent weeks.

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