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Supporters, detractors gather to discuss Lucas museum

Dozens of people gathered Wednesday evening to discuss the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art — with many opposing the lakefront location.

The often-criticized project that some have branded a gaudy, land-gobbling eyesore was revamped earlier this month with smaller, softer edges shaping the lakefront museum.

But the design wasn’t the main issue at the McCormick Place hearing.

Instead, the location on the lakefront was the hot topic.

“We should not be building museums on our lakefront,” said Lia Alexopoulos, an art history lecturer at Lake Forest College. She’s delighted the museum seeks to open, but building on the lakefront sets a bad precedent, she said.

Many suggested the site of the former Michael Reese hospital would be a better place for George Lucas’ art and movie museum.

“True Chicagoans have been shafted for a very long time,” said Saul Gallardo, who lives on the Near West Side.

But supporters praised the proposal and said if constructed, the cultural institution would be greatly beneficial to Chicago.

Carlos Tortolero, president of the National Museum of Mexican Art, said he supports the museum because it would bring tourists to the city.

“The Lucas museum would become a cultural center for the whole country,” he said.

And Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers said the museum would add “to vibrancy of our city” and to the city’s economy.

And he said Chicago kids would be inspired.

“The educational opportunities are limitless,” he said.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said her constituents are worried about traffic on busy days at the site, which is near Soldier Field and Northerly Island.

The construction of the museum and lease of park district land has to be voted on by the full park board, which can take up the vote as soon as Oct. 14.

The museum would lease the lakefront land from the park district for 99 years, the park district attorney Timothy King said.

He said no public funds would be used in the construction or operation of the museum.

The district also is collecting public comment on its website.

Video of the meeting and presentations also will be available online. The Chicago Park District also held a hearing Tuesday.

When the original design by Ma Yansong, the Beijing-based principal designer, was unveiled last fall, some compared the swoopy, big-top-like building to a palace for “Star Wars” villain Jabba the Hutt.

The newer design is smaller — down from 400,000 to 300,000 square feet, allowing more room for “green space.”

Contributing: Stefano Esposito