CHICAGO — The museum George Lucas wants to build near Chicago's lakefront cleared a key hurdle Wednesday, when park district officials signed off on leasing prime Downtown parkland to the filmmaker.
The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners Wednesday approved a deal allowing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art to lease seven acres of land next to Soldier Field for 99 years, with two renewal options. Lucas would pay a total of $10 to lease his preferred development site, but remain responsible for the museum's construction and future operating costs.
Lucas Museum officials and Michael Kelly, the park district's general superintendent and CEO, made one last pitch to the board before Wednesday's vote. If built, the Lucas Museum would be the 12th museum operating on city parkland.
"For some of you this may not be an easy vote, but in my history with the Chicago Park District neither was the Museum of Contemporary Art, the conversion of Meigs Field to Northerly Island, and most recently, the Obama Presidential Center," Kelly said. "This is a chance to make history for the city of Chicago."
The lease is a big step for Lucas, but his museum is still subject to a federal lawsuit filed by a local parks group. Friends of the Parks, which objects to the museum's proposed lakefront milieu, said Wednesday's park board approval won't deter their cause.
"We'll see [the city] in court," said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. "We’re just excited to get to discovery and the opportunity to argue the merits of the case before the judge."
If built, the 300,000-square-foot museum would include a four-story museum focused on visual storytelling, three theaters, a library and education center. Public amenities would include a new park, tailgating space for Bears games, as well as a rooftop restaurant and observation deck atop the museum. The Lucas Museum would also offer 52 free days per year like the other local museums on city parkland do.
"The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be an iconic addition to the Museum Campus and will transform the current site from a barren asphalt parking lot into a usable green space for everyone to enjoy. Indeed, Chicago residents will gain nearly 200,000 square feet of new parkland thanks to this project," Jeff Philips, a Lucas Museum spokesman, said in a statement. "We continue to work in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago to ensure the development is a success, and the Park District Board meeting is another important step in the public process."
The project would cost at least $400 million and would be privately financed. It is expected to open by 2019-2020.
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