An independent alderman who might challenge Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared his opposition Friday to the mayor’s plan to offer movie mogul George Lucas free lakefront land to build a new interactive museum.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said Emanuel’s handpicked site selection committee “took the easy way out” when it chose surface parking lots serving Soldier Field and the lakefront museum campus to house the Lucas Museum of Cultural Arts if Chicago wins a heated competition with the movie mogul’s home town of San Francisco.
Lucas would be offered the 17-acre, 750,000 square foot site between Soldier Field and McCormick Place East for $1 a year in a leasing arrangement similar to the city’s other lakefront museums.
That’s only part of what bothers Fioretti. He’s also concerned that the lakefront site is too congested, and that a museum championed by the Star Wars creator lacks the staying power of the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium.
“We should have made a reasonable lease arrangement if they were gonna put it there — enough money that would service other parks. If we’re going to give a billionaire a $1 lease for the property, we’re selling the city short,” Fioretti said.
“There are a lot more available locations that should have been looked at. The old site where we had [Michael Reese] hospital would have been much preferred. Everybody wants lakefront property. You want to build your house there. You want to build your townhomes. But if we’re gonna do proper land planning for the future of this city, that is not the location.”
Earlier this week, Emanuel offered a spirited defense of his plan, which faces a lakefront protection battle against Friends of the Parks akin to the battle over former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s ill-fated plan to build a Children’s Museum in Grant Park.
By offering a site on the stunning lakefront museum campus, Emanuel argued that Chicago has “put its best foot forward” to secure a tourism and educational opportunity of a lifetime with the potential to light an educational fire among Chicago students.
The mayor dismissed the value of that prime lakefront land because it’s now an unsightly parking lot that would be replaced by green space, thanks to an underground parking garage that would be built at Lucas’ expense.
“You don’t take park land off and build a building. You take a parking lot and you create new park space. A big difference,” the mayor said then.
“Our contribution is a parking lot. Mr. Lucas’ contribution is $700 million-to-$1 billion of his personal money.”
Emanuel sloughed off suggestions that a museum by the creator of Star Wars lacks staying power.
“Just imagine. You’ll leave the Field Museum studying a dinosaur from three million years ago. You’ll walk across and go into another museum and, through computer and digital work, you’ll be designing a dinosaur. That’s an incredible opportunity for us,” the mayor said.
“And when you look at what the 300 kids who participated in the [site selection] process said—they’re excited about it. If kids are excited about going to a museum, we should embrace that as an educational opportunity, a cultural opportunity for the city, let alone all of the economic opportunity.”
On Friday, Fioretti strongly disagreed. He downplayed the value of an interactive museum that would house Lucas’ formidable collection of artwork and film-making memorabilia.
“Are we serving — again like so often — the billionaires of this country and not the people of Chicago? Is it a museum that’s worthy? How many Norman Rockwells are you gonna look at after you’ve gone through your magazines on the front cover every month since we’ve been growing up?” he said.