Friends Of The Parks Demand Over Lucas Museum Called “Extortion”

A bird's eye view of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and surrounding park setting. Nova Safo
A bird's eye view of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and surrounding park setting. Nova Safo

Friends Of The Parks Demand Over Lucas Museum Called “Extortion”

Updated 3:45 P.M.

The head of the Chicago Park District board says it’s “a shame” that park advocacy group Friends of the Parks is publicly making demands over the Lucas Museum before discussing them with city officials.

The Friends of the Parks have long been fighting against the city, filmmaker George Lucas and wife Mellody Hobson over their efforts to build the Lucas Museum on the lakefront. The group sued the city over the first proposed location by Soldier Field.

But now, in a letter to its board, the Executive Director Juanita Irizarry said the group is ready to negotiate over the second location, at McCormick Place East, but with a number of conditions.

Here’s the list as it was printed in her letter:

  1. A legally enforceable agreement to protect the lakefront from development (other than park recreation-related uses) for the next 100 years.
  2. Changes in the Lucas Museum’s legal structuring to conform to that of the other public museums in Chicago, with appropriate revisions to the Ground Lease for the museum consistent with those of other museums.
  3. Development of DuSable Park.
  4. The creation of a Neighborhood Parks Fund to be held at an institution like The Chicago Community Trust and controlled by an advisory board formed by such institution, funded by contributions that represent 5% of the Lucas Museum’s revenues for the life of the museum, to pay for park capital improvements—like fixing the crumbling field houses and sports fields that are in disrepair—in dis-invested neighborhoods across the city.
  5. A Community Benefits Agreements to ensure that a significant number of temporary and permanent jobs created by the Lucas Museum/McCormick Place development and on-going operations go to low-income and minority residents of Chicago.
  6. The conversion of the Soldier Field parking lot into a green event space (which allows for Bears tailgating) such as that proposed in the Lucas Museum Plan A design.

The memo was shared with a few media outlets over the weekend, a move that caused Park District Board President Jesse Ruiz to write his own letter in response.

Ruiz called the demand for the museum to share 5 percent of its revenue “nothing short of extortion” and criticized the nonprofit for sharing their list publicly, saying it might be the “final nail in the coffin” for the future of the museum in Chicago.

“Your uncoordinated effort and the leaked list of ill-informed demands unfortunately make clear that Friends of the Parks has no coordinated effort and no interest in actually resolving this issue,” Ruiz said.

Irizarry did not add any further comment, but in her letter to the board, she said her group was in the process of following up with the mayor’s office “per their invitation.”

According to audio from a mayoral spokesman, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told reporters at an unrelated event Monday that Friends of the Parks have been “all over the place” on this issue.

“My view is they’ve gotta stop negotiating among themselves on the board and realize that George Lucas and others are negotiating with the other cities on the west coast. And time’s running out,” Emanuel said.

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.