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Lucas Museum Fallout: The Internet Strikes Back

By  David Matthews and Mina Bloom | May 4, 2016 1:29pm 

 The Lucas Museum as it could look near McCormick Place.
The Lucas Museum as it could look near McCormick Place.
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Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

CHICAGO — Mellody Hobson's new threat to move the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art somewhere far, far away has elicited a range of opinions from Father Michael Pfleger to the ever-outspoken community of Internet commenters.

Tuesday's announcement from Hobson, a Chicago financier and wife of filmmaker George Lucas, echoes what city officials have been saying for months as they scramble to keep a museum they view as a coup for Chicago's tourist industry. 

But now that a thorny lawsuit has prompted the museum to consider "seriously pursuing" new locations outside Chicago, the feedback floodgates are open. 

"This latest move by 'Friends of the Parks' makes it clear that green space is not their primary motive.  Rather they are a group of elitist individuals who want control of the lakefront" firebrand South Side Rev. Michael Pfleger said in a statement Tuesday. "Their latest opposition exposes the falsehood of their argument for green space.  They are not friends of the park, not friends of those who would benefit from jobs in construction and operation, and certainly not friends of the millions of children of all ages who would benefit from this museum!"

Under the city's new plan, The Lakeside Center at McCormick Place East would be demolished and replaced with the Lucas Museum, which would also add 12 acres of new parkland to the Downtown lakefront. The city would then replace the lost convention space with a new McCormick Place building straddling Lake Shore Drive. Filmmaker George Lucas would have still paid to build his museum, but the city would have needed $1.2 billion in new state-approved funding to rebuild the lost convention hall. 

Friends of the Parks rejected the idea Tuesday.

"It calls for us to choose between two priorities: parkland and saving the lakefront," Irizarry said. "While we would love more parkland, we don’t want to sell out our lakefront."

Hobson reacted by saying her husband is now "seriously pursuing" places outside Chicago for the museum, which was previously rejected by the city of San Francisco. Hobson said Friends of the Parks "hijacked" the museum, which she called the biggest philanthropic gift to any American city this century.

"It saddens me that young black and brown children will be denied the chance to benefit from what this museum will offer," Hobson said. "As chair of the Board of After School Matters, which serves 15,000 public high school students in Chicago and has more demand than can ever be met, I have seen firsthand what art can do to spur imagination and creativity, heal the soul and advance society—something so needed right now." 

RELATED: Mellody Hobson Unloads On Friends of Parks Over Lucas Museum Battle

Mayor Rahm Emanuel effectively took Friends of the Parks on a guilt-trip Wednesday, saying the loss of the Lucas Museum wouldn't impact him, but rather the people who could have benefited from its jobs and cultural offerings. 

"What happens to those people could have been working? What happens to those small businesses that could have gotten a shot working at [the museum]? What happens to the schools who thought they'd get STEM education at that museum?" Emanuel said Wednesday. "If you have an opportunity for nearly a billion dollars in economic development, you don't be willy-nilly about it."

"Who here thinks that will not be a parking lot in the next 10 years?" Emanuel added. 

DNAinfo Chicago readers have weighed in as well, with more than 250 comments weighing in on the development since the news broke Tuesday afternoon. A quick survey of the comments show a slight majority in support of the museum, but many other people opposed to building it here. 

"Friends of the Parks may win this battle, but I hope they realize that they will have diminished their influence for years to come," user michael-vandam wrote on Neighborhood Square. "If they expect any support from the city (or indeed most citizens) going forward, I think they'll be disappointed. Can't imagine saving a parking lot is worth that."

"I don't blame [Hobson] for being upset," user firelog wrote. "The new location is great, it adds park space, and adds much needed tax revenue. If the city can't tax a tourist, then they'll tax us."

Others disagreed.

"Can you smell the arrogance? The museum, and the wonderful philanthropic gift can be built in so many locations, but if it isn't on the lakefront then screw you Chicago" user dennismaize wrote. "We tried working with all the important people to get this done, but our money and arrogance hasn't won over The Friends of The Parks. George and Mellody just can't imagine why!"

"Hobson and Lucas howl about a 'small interest group' blocking their legacy museum. The nerve of a group defending the lakefront from the whims of an arrogant, billionaire movie mogul!" user rufnel wrote. "Will Mellody demand that Emanuel return her election contribution now that the mayor can't deliver the museum?"

Some views were more nuanced: some readers like the idea of the museum, but not borrowing more than $1 billion to rebuild a big chunk of McCormick Place for it. Some like the museum, but not on the Soldier Field parking lot. Others thought the museum should be built on the South or West sides to spur investment in economically disadvantaged parts of the city. Two suggestions that kept popping up were the long-vacant South Works steel site or Michael Reese Hospital on the South Side. 

"There are plenty of other places in the city where this Museum could happen and actually benefit the neighborhoods" user bun-bun wote. "No, Melody Hobson and George Lucas want it to be on a cherry site so they can see it from there luxury high rise flat and bask in their own glory."

Then again, others thought why wouldn't a billionaire philanthropist want his museum on the Museum Campus Downtown. 

"If I had a billion dollars to build a museum (for myself) I wouldn't want it down there either. [Lucas is] not building a museum as a social tool to improve the south side," jsp001 wrote.

Of course, the museum has other options here. And Downtown.  

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