Lucas museum's new plans force change in Friends of Parks' lawsuit

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An early rendering of the proposed Lucas Museum on the Chicago lakefront. New plans call for changes.

Plans for the museum George Lucas envisions came further into focus Thursday when a proposed lease agreement for the lakefront parcel was introduced in a federal court case seeking to block the project.

The document — which provides a 99-year lease of the land south of Soldier Field for $10 — reveals plans for a parking structure on the west side of Lake Shore Drive; more green space; and up to 300,000 square feet of museum space — 100,000 less than originally planned for the seven-story structure.

The parking structure would replace a lot that’s popular with tail-gating Bears fans, which the museum is slated to be built on.

Plans also include nearly 5 acres of green space to be divided in a garden, an event prairie, an eco-park and a dune field “that reflects the natural landscape of the Lake Michigan shoreline,” according to the proposed lease.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge John Darrah said in court that attorneys for Friends of the Parks, a nonprofit conservation group that wants to scuttle the museum project, would need to revise their lawsuit to take into account the newly proposed lease, according to one of those attorneys, Sean Morales-Doyle.

Darrah gave them three weeks to fine-tune their complaint. Morales-Doyle said despite the new details, the underlying argument will remain the same.

RELATED: Much-ridiculed design for Lucas Museum is changing

“We see our lawsuit from the beginning as not being about the specifics of the document, but whether or not it’s OK for the city and park district to sell public land to a private entity like the Lucas museum, and whether or not the deal the violates the public trust doctrine and its central principle that the public should be the beneficiary of this land,” Morales-Doyle said Thursday.

The lawsuit filed in late 2014 by the Friends of the Parks argues that 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.

“It’s land that’s supposed to be held for all the people of Illinois, not for a billionaire to build his museum,” he said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel personally courted the museum and offered Lucas the lakefront land, edging out San Francisco in the process.

The new lease agreement also calls for a $400 million museum endowment and for Lucas “or an affiliate” to hand over $40 million to build the parking structure west of Lake Shore Drive.

Original construction estimates for the museum totaled about $300 million — all to be privately funded.

The proposal needs to be approved by the Park District Board, the city’s Plan Commission and the City Council.

Darrah also will be taking into account state legislation approved earlier this year intended to make it easier to develop parkland intended to house the Obama presidential library in Chicago. But the legislation also included a provision for building on “previously submerged.”

Critics claimed the wording was a back-door effort to help green-light the Lucas museum — which would be built on landfill that was once part of Lake Michigan.

“Like the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium, the Lucas Museum will be another iconic part of Chicago’s Museum Campus, a cultural and educational benefit for our children and families for generations to come,” mayoral spokesman Adam Collins said Thursday night, adding that a public hearing process will take place before the park district vote.

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