Editorial: Ugly parking lot victorious over Lucas Museum

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“Star Wars” creator George Lucas. | Sun-Times file photo

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We get to keep our parking lot, forever open, clear and free. Hurrah!

George Lucas has given up on Chicago. He announced Friday he will take his museum of narrative art to another town, still looking to feel the love.

That’s too bad for Chicago’s lakefront, which would have gained a good deal and lost nothing but an ugly parking lot south of Soldier Field. That’s too bad for the city’s economy and the Museum Campus, which could use the jolt of energy the Lucas Museum promised to bring. And that’s too bad for a city beset by financial woes and an uncertain future, a city that really has to do a better job of working together.

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The Lucas Museum fell victim to a lakefront protection group, the Friends of the Parks, that never could see the forest for the trees. The Friends got stuck on the notion that any kind of private development east of Lake Shore Drive would violate a foundational city ordinance and state public trust protections.

The Friends of the Parks failed to see that the only sensible measure of the museum’s merit was the net gain or loss. Sure, it would mean another man-made structure on our precious lakefront, but it would replace an unsightly and far less appropriate concrete parking lot in a grey no-man’s land.

The Lucas Museum fell victim as well to Chicago’s polarized local politics. The more Mayor Rahm Emanuel championed the museum, the more his critics dismissed it as a give-away to the rich by “Mayor One Percent.” The fight over the Lucas Museum was a continuation of the 2015 mayoral election.

The Lucas Museum was, truth be told, not a give-away. It was an opportunity. It would have boosted Chicago tourism and added to the city’s tax base. George Lucas, the filmmaker, had committed to sinking $743 million into it.

But, as City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman wrote Friday, Chicagoans “never embraced or fully understood” the concept. What exactly is a “museum of narrative art?” The mayor went through the motions of holding public hearings and such, but as a salesman he failed.

We see no reason to blame George Lucas, we’d like to add. Friends of the Parks repeatedly accused Lucas of “holding the city hostage” to get a lakefront location for his museum, but there was no hostage. Lucas simply laid out his terms, take it or leave it. Fair enough.

The Lucas Museum likely will be built in California now. But, hey, we’ve still got our parking lot.

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