SOUTH LOOP — While few disagree that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be an exciting addition to the city's catalog of museums, many still disagree over the proposed location, according to public comments at a meeting for the project Wednesday.
The project's sticking point is still very much its proposed location: Filmmaker George Lucas has asked the Chicago Park District to lease land directly south of Soldier Field along the lakefront. Citizens expressed their concerns, and support, at a public meeting hosted by the Chicago Park District Board on Wednesday.
The lease would be good for 99 years, with two renewal options, said Timothy King, general counsel for the park district. He said the district has ensured the museum would be built and maintained with private money.
A new museum on the spot would further solidify Chicago's status as a hub of world-class museums, while also beautifying an area that is mostly a parking lot for Solider Field, advocates said.
The museum plan already has the backing of its museum campus neighbors, as well as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and city Treasurer Kurt Summers.
"The location of the museum matters to me, quite simply, because I'm a Chicago kid," Summers said. "I grew up not far from here, in Bronzeville, where opportunities to stretch a young person's imagination were far from reach."
Others said the museum can be a benefit to Chicago's underprivileged kids at different sites, including the former Michael Reese Hospital site, near where 26th Street meets Lake Shore Drive.
"It can really drive economic development in places of the city that desperately need it," Annie Morris said.
Speakers also cited logistical hurdles, such as overcrowding and traffic congestion if adequate parking was not built.
"Please be thoughtful about how you schedule events at the museum campus," Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) asked the parks board Wednesday.
A representative with the museum's design team said it had been working on a solution to transportation issues, though concrete plans were scarce Wednesday. Crews have been on site for two Bears games this year and are working through the collected data.
Lea Alexopoulos, an art teacher at Lake Forest College, said the museum would be a great addition to the city, but not at its proposed site.
"I'm very excited to bring my students," she said. "I strongly oppose the location. It is in violation of the spirit of the lakefront."
Most of the opposition at Wednesday's meeting revolved around the leasing of public lakefront land. The plan goes against the city's longstanding mission of keeping lakefront property for public use, rather than private economic benefit, speakers said.
To George Blakemore, the project is just another example of city leaders privatizing public assets.
"The city of Chicago has seen its streets go private, seen our schools go charter," Blakemore said. "These partnerships are not working. It's good for somebody, but it's not good for the public."
Dirk Denison, a Chicago-based architect and instructor at nearby Illinois Institute of Technology, said lost in the discussion over public land use was the fact that the museum would be catering to the public, and would be more accessible and useful than its current use as a parking lot.
"My feeling is it's a gift to Chicago," Denison said. "This is about as minimal a profile as a building could have."
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