A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the city not to physically alter the proposed site of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art until further order of the court during the opening legal battle between the city and opponents of the museum.
Friends of the Parks filed suit earlier this month asking a federal judge to stop the proposed construction on the site between McCormick Place and Soldier Field. Filmmaker George Lucas wants to build a state-of-the-art museum there.
Thomas Geoghegan, a lawyer for the advocacy group, asked U.S. District Judge John Darrah for a preliminary injunction Tuesday. The judge then asked city lawyers if they could guarantee work would not begin before the next court hearing on Feb. 26.
Darrah even likened the situation to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s notorious midnight demolition of Meigs Field.
City lawyer William Aguiar told the judge the Lucas Museum is simply a proposal that must clear Chicago’s plan commission, the City Council and the park district’s board of commissioners before work begins.
Fears of a midnight groundbreaking are “simply not valid,” he said.
But he stopped short of offering an ironclad guarantee that nothing would happen before Feb. 26, so the judge entered his order.
The lawsuit filed Nov. 13 by the Friends of the Parks argues the proposed site of the Lucas Museum “consists entirely of land recovered from the navigable waters of Lake Michigan” and that the state of Illinois is the “exclusive trustee” of that landfill.
A city spokesman did not immediately comment on Darrah’s order.
In a statement issued later Tuesday, the city’s legal department said that the city has said “from the very beginning” that “planning for the Lucas Museum will take many months, not weeks, and will include a public process to engage residents and solicit feedback.”
That department has said in a previous statement that the lawsuit’s claims “are legally baseless and defective.”
It also has said in the past that the Lucas Museum “will be in full compliance with all applicable laws and will be treated like every other museum on the campus. This museum is a substantial investment in Chicago’s cultural scene that will create green space, billions of dollars in local economic impact and hundreds of construction and permanent jobs.”