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Lucas Museum A 'Slippery Slope' To More Lakefront Development, Critics Say

By Quinn Ford | July 16, 2014 8:19am
 Friends of the Park held an "open space forum" Tuesday evening to discuss a number of topics, including the group's opposition to the proposed site of the Lucas Museum.
Friends of the Park
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THE LOOP — As city officials move forward with formally working out details to bring the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to a spot near Chicago's lakefront, greenspace activists are mobilizing to block the proposed site.

Friends of the Parks held an "open space" forum Tuesday evening, where the group discussed, among other things, how to find an alternate home for the Star Wars creator's museum.

The organization's president, Cassandra Francis, said the group wants the museum in Chicago, just not on the lakefront.

"We really have to look at this as a legacy issue," Francis said. "The slippery slope concept is if we let this happen...it is going to be a precedent that will support further development up and down the lakefront and in our parks."

The currently proposed site for the Lucas museum is a 17-acre stretch between McCormick Place and Soldier Field, which currently is home to two parking lots. A city task force selected the site in May after considering 57 potential sites.

Advocates say the 5-acre museum will be an improvement on unsightly parking lots and will leave 12 acres that can be converted into green space. The existing parking lots will be pushed underground. Francis said the pitch may be compelling but ultimately falls short.

"This is a theory that we're really fighting," Francis said. "The issue is really not green space in this case, it's open space. Once a building is built in this area, we will never be able to bring it back to green space."

And Francis argued the existing parking lots are programmed space that raise revenue for the Chicago Park District.

One alternative location for the museum offered at Tuesday's meeting was the site of the former Michael Reese Hospital. The site, located just east of South Lake Shore Drive on East 29th Street, has also been mentioned as potential homes for the Obama Presidential Library and a long-proposed Chicago casino.

Friends of the Parks plans to circulate petitions and urge residents to contact their alderman, state representatives and the Lucas foundation about reconsidering the museum site.

If the court of public opinion does not work, Francis said the group is willing to take legal action, saying the museum could violate the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. The ordinance states decisions must conform with the Lakefront Plan of Chicago adopted by the City Council in 1973. That plan bars private development east of Lake Shore Drive.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel has publicly said the city is on solid legal ground when it comes to the lakefront site and is not worried about a potential law suit.

At least one city law maker is on the group's side. Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) attended Tuesday's meeting and said he supported the group's opposition to the proposed site.

"I support the Friends of the Parks in opposition to the location of the Lucas Museum as violating the Lakefront Protection Ordinance," Fioretti said, adding that open land is an important asset to the city. "It is important to take action now because unless we do, we do not know what park will be next on the list to be a site of more construction."

Serge Pierre-Louis, a board member of Friends of the Parks, said the group's mission is the same as the park district's: preserving, protecting and improving open space in the city.

"It should be clear for the public we are not just standing here saying 'no' to every new idea," Pierre-Louis said. "We have a clear purpose in mind, and what we are protecting is in the interest of everybody in Chicago, including the park district, the mayor and other officials."

The lakefront location for the museum still needs approval from the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council.

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