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Rahm Worries George Lucas Will Build His Museum In Another, Less Litigious City

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 2, 2016 9:36PM

Designs for the Lucas Museum (Lucas Museum of Narrative Art)

Star Wars creator George Lucas has his “heart set” on lakefront property near Soldier Field for his proposed Lucas Museum, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Sun-Times—and it could mean that Chicago loses the museum project altogether, due to the ongoing legal battle over the land.

A lawsuit contesting the legality of using the 17-acre stretch of lakefront in question for Lucas’s museum, filed by park advocacy group Friends of the Parks, was recently kept alive by a federal judge, the Sun-Times notes.

Now, Emanuel feels Chicago is at risk for losing the project to another city—just as San Francisco lost the museum to Chicago due to similar legal struggles. He told the Sun-Times:

“This is a family that’s willing to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to fulfill our vision as a city — not mine. … I just hope that, as the other cities compete, that we do not lose a tremendous charitable donation. … Other cities now are competing for their hearts and their resources. … We don’t stand alone. In the past, it was San Francisco’s to lose and they lost it. I do not want to lose this for Chicago. My goal is to keep it here, but there are other cities competing for it now. … I hope we don’t lose it.”

This is basically “once a cheater, always a cheater” wisdom, playing out in the city planning sphere. Han Solo would maybe be proud.

Emanuel also “strongly hinted,” according to the Sun-Times, that he couldn’t convince Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson, to consider an alternate Chicago site for the museum.

Back in February, this seemed like a no-brainer solution to the museum gridlock. Juanita Irizarry, Friends of the Parks’ executive director, said in a Feb. 17 statement:

“We have already learned through discovery that the city only offered one potential site to the Lucas Museum… It would be a shame if the city lost this opportunity because the mayor didn’t seriously make an effort to find a site that is not subject to 100- year old public trust doctrine making it illegal to build on the lakefront.”

Now, though, the problem is trickier. Chicago is, according to Emanuel's thinking, caught between a massive infusion of Star Wars money and the Friends of the Parks’ abstract argument: that the proposed museum site, although currently a parking lot, could become a park one day. If the museum is built there, though, the land would be “forever precluded” from becoming a park.

The advocacy group argues—successfully, so far!—that this is a violation of public trust doctrine, whose purpose is to make sure the public can enjoy the lakefront land.