George Lucas, the filmmaker famous for the Star Wars franchise, can’t seem to catch a break. First, his bid to build a museum to house his vast populist art collection, along with memorabilia from his films, on Crissy Field in San Francisco’s Presidio fell through when the Presidio Trust “decided not to pursue any of the proposals to build a cultural institution.” The $700 million Beaux-Arts-inspired proposal, designed by the Urban Design Group of Dallas and the Office of Cheryl Barton of San Francisco, had received plenty of negative and positive criticism, and Lucas had vowed to take the museum to another city, such as Chicago, if rejected.
In June, it was announced that Lucas had indeed made good on that threat, and Chicago had successfully lured Lucas to its shores. Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, offered the current site, two parking lots covering roughly 17 acres, along the lakefront of Chicago for a yearly lease of one dollar, an offer too good to resist. Like the Presidio, the site could give visitors great access to waterfront cultural sites, along with stretches of green space, but it also offers the reflected glamour of being nestled among such world-class museums as the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium—an area known as the Museum Campus.
However, once again, not everyone agrees with the choice of site. The decision to move the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, as it is now called, to Chicago’s lakefront has already drawn opposition from sports fans and park enthusiasts. Chicago Bears fans are upset about the proposed demolition of the parking lots they use to the south of Soldier Field, saying they are “very concerned about losing that tailgating space,” according to a local television station, WGN. An advocacy group for Chicago’s open spaces, Friends of the Parks, argues that the museum’s development will violate the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, which states, “In no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.” Parking lots aren’t the first thing on preservationists’ minds, but Lauren Moltz, the chair of Friends of the Parks, issued a statement that says: “Although the proposed site is now used as a parking lot, its future reversion to parkland is possible. Once a building is in place, it is forever precluded from being public open space.”
Despite the public pushback, the project has lost little momentum, and the June announcement was followed quickly by a statement on the Lucas Museum’s website announcing that MAD Architects of Beijing will be the museum’s principal designer, with Chicago-based VOA Associates named as the local partner. Studio Gang Architects of Chicago was chosen to design the museum landscape and a bridge to connect the site to nearby Northerly Island, where the firm designed a new park in conjunction with landscape architects and engineers at JJR.
There are currently no community meetings scheduled on the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, and the Chicago Plan Commission still needs to approve the development of the site. Another factor to contend with could be what lies under the site, according to an August 10 article in the Chicago Sun-Times that was reported by Brett Chase of the Better Government Association, a nonprofit investigative journalism group. An analysis conducted more than 10 years ago of the ground near Soldier Field found the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals left by dumping that occurred a century ago or longer. It is not clear how extensive any potential cleanup would need to be. A spokesman for the mayor said that no public money will be used to build the museum.
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