THE LOOP — A federal judge emphasized Tuesday that there will be no work done on the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art while a lawsuit is still in play to halt it.
U.S. District Court Judge John Darrah gave attorney Thomas Geoghegan, representing Friends of the Parks, three weeks to answer a city motion to dismiss the group's suit, with a ruling tentatively set for Feb. 4.
"We're concerned by March they may start digging," Geoghegan argued in court Tuesday.
Darrah dismissed those concerns, stating there was a hold on construction while the suit is still pending.
"We're thankful that the judge reminded the city that it's not allowed to break ground on the Lucas Museum until all of this is resolved," said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, after the hearing.
City attorney Brian Sieve put the case against the suit succinctly.
"Is there a transfer of public property?" Sieve said, answering no, that there was a lease on the property between Soldier Field and McCormick Place on what is now the South Lot for parking.
"Is there a public benefit?" Sieve said, adding that there clearly was in the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
Yet Geoghegan countered that the three 99-year leases granted the museum, each at $10, adding up to 297 years, effectively transferred the property. "By the time the lease is up, there may be no City of Chicago left," he added.
Geoghegan argued that the benefit to "Star Wars" filmmaker George Lucas, who is providing the museum with its core collection of narrative art, is the key to the case, not the potential public benefit.
"What is the benefit to Mr. Lucas?" Geoghegan said. "What are the restrictions on his ability to use it?"
Geoghegan also dismissed a General Assembly action earlier this year that appeared to clear the way for the Park District to grant the land to the museum, even though it's part of a "public trust" landfill the state has jurisdiction over. Geoghegan called that "unlawful" in that it simply seeks to ignore the public-trust doctrine the Friends of the Parks suit is based on.
Geoghegan charged that the city and the Park District are dragging their feet in making Lucas Museum representatives and Park Supt. Michael Kelly available for depositions. He also sought information on whether the city had explored "alternative sites."
Darrah, however, countered that "the most orderly way to proceed" would be to first determine the merits of the suit, to be argued by Geoghegan against the city's motion to dismiss. Then, if necessary, he added, they could argue a wider discovery.
"We wouldn't have filed a lawsuit if we didn't think we had a substantial basis," Geoghegan said afterward. "We anticipate that the case will continue after that."
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