Take the man’s money.
I don’t think I can say it any more plain than that.
Filmmaker George Lucas is willing to donate something on the order of $1 billion from his own fortune to build and endow a museum that could enhance this city as a cultural and tourist attraction for the next century.
What he asks in return is that we allow him to build the museum on a piece of lakefront land wedged between Soldier Field on the North and the original McCormick Place on the South.
That’s a piece of property that for as long as I can remember has been set aside for use as a parking lot, although it’s rather rare you will actually find any cars parked there, making it more of an asphalt “prairie.”
Yet ever since Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced his plan to put the Lucas Museum for Narrative Arts at this location, much of Chicago has been in a swoon over the perceived affront to our civic dignity and sensibilities.
“Oh, we couldn’t possibly . . . ,” say the tut-tutters, invoking the “forever open, clear and free” mantra that hasn’t been observed along that particular stretch of Lake Michigan for the past century.
The tut-tutting turned into a shrill chorus when Lucas revealed the architectural design for the museum, a futuristic concept that, gasp, doesn’t look anything like the existing buildings in Chicago.
For crying out loud, take the man’s money.
Now that the city has President Obama’s Presidential Library locked up, closing the deal on the Lucas Museum ought to be our first order of business before Lucas changes his mind and keeps his project in California.
As someone who tries to be a progressive voice, I realize that I’m supposed to be opposed to building the museum on the lakefront. On principle!
In supporting its construction, I’ll be letting down friends, and more important, royally ticking off my wife.
To them I say: What principle?
I invite anyone to take a drive over to the proposed site as I did Friday to remind myself of the lay of the land.
Perhaps someone imagines that what we really need to do there is just dig up the parking lot and replace it with grass, giving us another beautiful lakefront park from which to enjoy the vast vistas of Lake Michigan stretching to the horizon, where waves alternately lap or pound against the shoreline depending on the weather.
As it happens, there are no lake vistas to be seen from this particular part of the lakefront. And no waves, large or small.
What you’ve got instead is man-made Burnham Harbor, quickly filling up for the season Friday with yachts and sailboats.
Beyond the harbor is man-made Northerly Island, first put to use as the center of attention for the gaudy “Century of Progress” World’s Fair in 1933, later repurposed into what many of us remember as Meigs Field.
As everyone knows, Meigs Field is currently being transformed into a nature park, although you might not realize the new park comes complete with hills that block the view of the lake from the shoreline. Of course, the nature park shares the island with the idyllic First Merit Bank Pavilion concert venue on the north end.
Let’s be honest: part of what is happening here is snobbishness about Lucas being the creator of the popular “Star Wars” movies, not everybody’s cup of tea.
While I’m no “Star Wars” groupie, I’ll admit I can still remember seeing it for the first time in 1977 and walking out of the Orland Park theater afterward and thinking to myself that some genius had changed the boundaries of moviemaking forever. Then I saw him rekindle that a generation later for my children.
Lucas hasn’t done a great job of communicating what his museum, devoted to the art of storytelling, will be. That’s allowed others to fill in the blanks with derisive references to “Star Wars.”
Me, I trust the guy’s instincts.
And I think of how far his investment could go to further enhance the museum campus, inspire young minds and put food on the tables of future Chicago families.
Take the money and run.