SOUTH LOOP — Chicagoans finally got a chance to tell parks officials what they really think of the proposed Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, but most who spoke at Tuesday's forum came out in support.
Officials from many local museums including the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and DuSable Museum of African American History endorsed the proposed Lucas Museum during Tuesday's meeting at Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners scheduled meetings Tuesday and Wednesday to allow the public to see the museum in detail and offer their thoughts.
"I've had extensive conversations with the founder and new president of the museum, and I'm deeply impressed with the intellectual content of this enterprise," Richard Lariviere, president of the Field Museum, said Tuesday. "This will be a huge plus for the city. You’ll have winning museums surrounding both sides of Soldier Field, which may be a good thing."
The Park Board hosted the meetings because it owns the would-be museum site: a parking lot next to Soldier Field. The non-profit Lucas Museum would lease the land from the park district, but its futuristic design has drawn ire from critics. A parks group has also sued the city over its plan to give the museum prime, public lakefront land. That lawsuit is still pending.
Juanita Irizarry, executive director of the Friends of the Parks group that filed the lawsuit, attended the meeting but did not speak during the public forum. She said the presentation "left out critical information," and that the officials pitching the Lucas Museum are presenting a false choice: build it, or leave the lakefront site as a parking lot.
"This administration just unveiled Maggie Daley Park, they just unveiled Northerly Island, so clearly when there’s a will there’s a way," Irizarry said.
Other residents who spoke Tuesday shared the sentiment, saying "public land belongs to the public" and lamenting in "100 years this ugly upside-down snow cone will be here."
Tom Tresser, an organizer of Protect Our Parks, a similar Chicago group, likened the Lucas proposal to Chicago's failed bid to use parkland for the Olympics in 2009.
"Will we ever learn? Apparently not," Tresser said. "You [the park board] are stewards and not salesmen."
The public comments followed a presentation led by Don Bacigalupi, president of the Lucas Museum. He outlined the museum in three parts: a four-story art museum focused on the visual arts, a cinematheque with three screens dedicated to screenings, and a library and education center. The top of the museum would feature a restaurant and rooftop observation deck that would be open to the public, not just guests of the museum. If built, the museum would be privately funded, offer free days, and is expected open by 2019-2020.
"It’s sometimes easy to forget that all of our great cultural institutions were once founded and initiated by the visions of individual philanthropists," Bacigalupi said.
The museum would also have a public plaza and extensive landscaping including a public lawn designed by Studio Gang, the architecture firm behind Aqua Tower and the proposed Wanda Vista skyscraper. John McCarter, a former president of the Field who was on the committee that suggested located the museum on the lakefront, said this vision along with Northerly Island would serve "as a connector to what will be an environmental corridor from Lurie Gardens to Indiana."
Francisco Valentin, a Chicagoan who spoke after the presentation, agreed with many others Tuesday that the Lucas Museum would be unlike any other and become a major tourist draw worldwide.
"[New York's Museum of Modern Art] is great, the [Museum of Contemporary Art] is great, the Art Institute is great. Nine-year-olds don’t go," he said. "They’ll want to come here."
The next public forum will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30 in room W181-C at McCormick Place West, 2301 S. Indiana Ave.
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