DOWNTOWN — A federal judge on Wednesday declined to lift his order barring construction of the Lucas Museum on Chicago's lakefront, a new sign that the year-long legal dispute will head to trial.
Judge John W. Darrah, who has been presiding over the Lucas Museum lawsuit for 15 months, said Wednesday he wasn't ready to allow construction of the museum while a case against it is still pending.
"If I dissolve this [order] today you will [begin construction] at your own peril," Darrah told city lawyers Wednesday.
The move came a day after city lawyers filed a motion pleading Darrah to lift his order and expedite the case. In their filing, city lawyers said filmmaker George Lucas is beginning to explore "other options" outside Chicago due to the legal dispute, which is his last roadblock to building the $400-million museum on a Soldier Field parking lot.
Darrah has twice dismissed the city's motions to dismiss the lawsuit filed in 2014 by Chicago advocacy group Friends of the Parks.
"The denial of a motion to dismiss represents nothing more than a conclusion that plaintiffs’ claims cross the starting line for a federal lawsuit, not that they are likely to cross the finish line in triumph," Chicago lawyer Brian Sieve, who is representing the city in the suit, wrote in Tuesday's filing. "In light of the delay and uncertainty caused by this litigation, the [Lucas Museum] may move the project to another city."
Darrah, however, seemed unmoved by the argument Wednesday, saying he has 400 pending cases on his docket. The case has a number of upcoming court dates, including a hearing scheduled for Feb. 24.
"If you want to ask my 399 other [plaintiffs] if you can go first, go ahead," he said.
The museum, to house a collection of Lucas artifacts and offer an observation deck and a new lakefront park, received City Council approval in October. But its construction is held up by the lawsuit filed by Friends of the Parks, which believes the city shouldn't give away the public's lakefront for a wealthy filmmaker's pet project.
Though Darrah refused to lift his order Wednesday, he did say the city and parks group could begin negotiating any possible "preliminary steps" toward construction that would not "significantly alter" the project site.
Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said in an interview she didn't know what Darrah meant by "preliminary steps," but the group "would certainly not want any construction happening" on the site.
Sieve declined to comment to reporters after Wednesday's court hearing.
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