Chicago City Council approves plan for George Lucas' proposed lakefront museum

Chicago City Council approves plan for George Lucas’ proposed lakefront museum

CHICAGO — The force — of Chicago’s City Council, at least — is with George Lucas, as aldermen voted Wednesday to allow the “Star Wars’ filmmaker to build his $400 million museum along the shores of Lake Michigan.

With no discussion, the council cast the widely expected vote in favour of allowing Lucas to build his 300,000-square-foot Lucas Museum of Narrative Art just south of Soldier Field. The vote came on the same day the Chicago Bears and the museum organization announced an agreement on parking that will increase the number of parking spots and tailgating spots.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel strongly endorsed the project and Lucas’ choice of Chicago instead of San Francisco as the site for his museum was considered a major coup for the mayor, who earlier this year scored another victory when President Barack Obama selected Chicago as the site of his presidential library.

But as with that library, not everybody favours handing over city parkland for Lucas to build his museum. A group is suing in federal court to block the project and the two sides are due back in court Nov. 10.

Some questions and answers about what has happened and what might happen now that the city council has approved the museum plan:

Why Chicago?

It seemed like San Francisco was a lock. After all, Lucas was born in California, Lucasfilm’s visual effects division is based in the city and the headquarters of Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound is across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. But Lucas’ wife, Mellody Hobson, is from Chicago. And when the two got married, the city rolled out the red carpet by closing down Promontory Point along Lake Michigan so they could host a star-studded party to celebrate after their California wedding. Then there is Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The famously-pushy mayor really wanted the museum and while San Francisco was “doodling around,” as Lucas once said, Emanuel was getting the city to offer up a slice a real estate along the lake near attractions such as the Field Museum of Natural History and the Shedd Aquarium.

What will it look like?

It is no surprise that a filmmaker who introduced the world to Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon and a droid named R2-D2 plans to house his collection in a futuristic building. The undulating structure will have an observation deck that resembles a floating disc. But the revised renderings also reflect the battle with those opposed to building a private museum on the city’s cherished lake front. About 100,000 square feet have been lopped off of the original planned 400,000-square-foot building, leaving more green space on the 17-acre site, which will include many trees, native plants and an outdoor plaza that leads up to the sloping face of the building.

What is going to be in the museum?

It may be officially called the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, but it will almost certainly be known as the Star Wars Museum. That means there will be plenty of artifacts and costumes from the “Star Wars” films, and Lucas has said there will be artifacts from the “Indiana Jones” movies and other films. But along with props and story boards, the museum will also include three auditoriums where visitors can watch films and attend lectures and workshops. Not only that, but the museum will showcase artwork Lucas has been collecting since college, including illustrations by Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth.

When do Han Solo and Darth Vader move in?

Construction could begin as early as next spring and the museum cold be operating as soon as 2019, if things go according to plan. But there is still the lawsuit by Friends of the Parks. The non-profit group contends that under a legal principle known as the public trust doctrine, the city has no authority to hand over the land where the museum is to be built. It says the doctrine requires the state to ensure open spaces are preserved and accessible to the public. After Wednesday’s vote, though, Emanuel did not sound concerned about the lingering lawsuit. “We have taken our step forward and we’re going to continue to do what we’re going to do,” he said.

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