The Lucas Museum’s future in Chicago appeared to be on shaky foundation Tuesday as George Lucas and his wife Mellody Hobson said they would pursue locations outside the city. The heated statement from Hobson, a Chicago native, was prompted by an announcement from the park advocacy group Friends of the Parks that it could not support a museum plan that used lakefront land.
Hobson, Lucas and Mayor Rahm Emanuel had recently turned their sights to McCormick Place East as a backup location for the museum, after Friends of the Parks sued the city over the original site south of Soldier Field. The new proposal would require most of McCormick Place East to be demolished and replaced with the museum and 12 acres of parkland.
Friends of the Park Executive Director Juanita Irizarry told WBEZ Tuesday that while McCormick Place East is a “mistake that should have never been built,” the group can’t support building the museum on the lakefront.
“We continue to believe that it’s not appropriate to build on the lake, and honestly we will not be put in a position of having to choose between more parkland and building on the lake, we believe there’s a third option, and that would be to build the museum somewhere else,“ Irizarry said.
In her response, Hobson accused Friends of the Parks of co-opting and hijacking the museum process from the beginning and called the McCormick Place plan a “different and feasible solution” that would replace underutilized convention space and add parkland. Hobson said the park group’s decisions will “rob” the state of billions of dollars in economic benefits and thousands of jobs.
“As an African American who has spent my entire life in this city I love, it saddens me that young black and brown children will be denied the chance to benefit from what this museum will offer,” Hobson said.
Hobson added that Friends of the Parks refusal to “accept the extraordinary public benefits of the museum” shows that “the Friends of the Parks has proven to be no friend of Chicago. If the museum is forced to leave, it will be because of the Friends of the Parks and that is no victory for anyone.”
Before Hobson released her statement, the mayor’s office chimed in with their own displeasure over the Friends of the Park’s decision.
“We’re disappointed and baffled at Friends of the Parks’ comments, which are contradictory to the decision they made less than 24 hours ago to stay the lawsuit.” Mayoral spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said. “Friends of the Parks has taken inconsistent and incoherent positions, making it impossible to work with them.”
City lawyers on Monday had asked Friends of the Parks to agree to a 30-day stay while they pursued the McCormick Place East plan. While Hobson and Lucas would chip in more than $700 million, the project would also require the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority to get state lawmakers’ approval to borrow $1.2 billion and shift and extend some tax revenues. The end of the scheduled legislative session is May 31st.
Friends of the Parks agreed to take a break from their lawsuit over the original location, but Irizarry said she hopes discussions will now turn to other “non-lakefront” sites they’d like the city to consider: The former Michael Reese Hospital property, a site at 18th street across from the original location and Lake Shore Drive, and the marshalling yards west of McCormick Place.
Here is the full statement from melody Hobson:
“My husband and I have worked in earnest for two years, side-by-side with every relevant city agency, community leader, and policy maker, to give what would be the largest philanthropic gift to an American city in the 21st century. From the beginning, this process has been co-opted and hijacked by a small special interest group. When the Friends of the Parks sued the city in order to preserve a parking lot, we were offered a different and feasible solution—the replacement of an underutilized and outdated convention space that would also add more than 12 acres of new parkland. Yet, even with this additional park space, an organization that claims to ‘preserve, protect, improve and promote the use of parks and open space’ now opposes this as well. While they claim to be a ‘strong steward of Chicago and a partner to its progress,’ their actions and decision rob our state of more than $2 billion in economic benefits, thousands of jobs and countless educational opportunities for children and adults alike.
As an African American who has spent my entire life in this city I love, it saddens me that young black and brown children will be denied the chance to benefit from what this museum will offer. As Chair of the Board of After School Matters, which serves 15,000 public high school students in Chicago and has more demand than can ever be met, I have seen firsthand what art can do to spur imagination and creativity, heal the soul and advance society—something so needed right now. This is a city of big shoulders and a metropolis that is second to none. In refusing to accept the extraordinary public benefits of the museum, the Friends of the Parks has proven itself to be no friend of Chicago. We are now seriously pursuing locations outside of Chicago. If the museum is forced to leave, it will be because of the Friends of the Parks and that is no victory for anyone.”
Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.