CITY HALL — The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art successfully made the leap to hyperspace Thursday when the Plan Commission approved its location on the lakefront between Soldier Field and McCormick Place.
By a series of 12-1 votes, the commission signed off on a Park District deal to lease the land and agreed to permit construction on the site, as well as finding that the overall project did not violate the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.
The museum cleared the Park District with approval of a lease agreement Wednesday and now moves to the City Council's Zoning Committee for a hearing set for Tuesday. Yet the commission decision settled the issue of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, pending a legal challenge from Friends of the Parks.
Commissioner Juan Carlos Linares cast the lone vote in opposition, calling it "an amazing design," but saying he voted on "the plain letter of the law" not to develop land east of Lake Shore Drive.
Linares took issue with a $10 charge for a 99-year lease, especially with the Park District as cash-strapped as the city. "We're missing an opportunity here," Linares said.
Park District attorney Timothy King said it was "consistent with all the other museum agreements in the park." King also echoed that language in stating that it would survive a legal challenge from Friends of the Parks.
Yet Melanie Moore, director of policy for Friends of the Parks, differed on that. "We strongly oppose the proposed ground lease," she said, adding it "violates the public trust doctrine." Moore suggested the museum be moved to the former site of Michael Reese Hospital.
Rob Rejman, director of planning and construction for the Park District, testified that the museum would actually add tailgating parking spaces for Bears games by replacing the South Lot, where the museum proper will be located, with parking across Burnham Harbor on Northerly Island and just south of the museum in what's being called an "event prairie" lot, as well as in remote lots to the south as far as 31st Street and the former Michael Reese site.
Yet, in the immediate vicinity of Soldier Field, the Park District will ultimately lose 1,500 potential tailgaiting spaces in the South Lot and gain 523 on Northerly Island and 560 on the event prairie.
Rejman added that, near the proposed museum, 200,000 square feet of asphalt would be converted to green space.
The extensive landscaping planned to surround the museum, much of it designed to mimic natural dunes, also argued in the museum's favor with the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, according to Heather Gleason of the city's Department of Planning and Development.
Gleason stated that the land would remain "publicly owned and controlled" and dedicated to public services in a way "consistent with the special interests of the area as a cultural campus."
Since its main use is for cultural and recreational purposes, she added, therefore it "should not constitute private development" and should be in compliance with the Lakefront Protection Ordinance.
Gleason added that the Park District was expected to announce plans for a parking garage west of Lake Shore Drive at 18th Street in the "near future." Park District officials on Wednesday said they were "contemplating" allowing tailgating on the top deck of that structure, but offered no further details.
Richard Lariviere, president of the Field Museum, cheered it as a welcome addition to the Museum Campus and a complement to the other museums there.
Don Bacigalupi, president of the Lucas Museum, called it an "epic gift" from "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, dedicated to "the very human impulse for storytelling and narrative art." The 300,000-square-foot building will have an estimated cost of $400 million, and Bacigalupi said that, with "no delays" from the legal challenge or other obstacles, the museum could break ground next spring and be completed in 2019.
According to Bacigalupi, the museum will have three basic components: an art museum, film museum and education center. A restaurant and observation deck atop the museum, he said, would be accessible to people without paying admission, as will the library.
Michael Merchant, director of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority overseeing McCormick Place, cheered it, adding it would contribute "additional vibrancy to a quickly developing South Loop area."
Ald. Will Burns (4th) supported its addition to his ward, calling it a "world attraction" that would find the South Side lakefront catching up with development on the North Side.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: