Coming clean on the Lucas Museum: why it might be time to back down and talk turkey

Coming clean on the Lucas Museum:  why it might be time to back down and talk turkey
Graphic/Chicago Tribune

Everyone thinks Friends of the Parks has won its lawsuit.  That Mr. Star Wars is not just calling our bluff, but really leaving Mayor Tiny Dancer's city for yet another city that might let him put his collection wherever he wants.

A lot of Lucas lovers are pissed that the force isn't with them.  And that Friends of the Parks fought to preserve land for the public under the Public Trust Doctrine.

Alas, though, no one mentions the elephant in the room.

Which is?  Friends of the Parks really hasn't won anything other than the right to stay in court and plead its case.

The fact is, Friends of the Parks could lose the whole enchilada.

Yes, Star and Tiny could win.  Not the motion the city has pending before the court of appeals that asks the court to make the judge dismiss Friends' case.  But the actual case.

Which brings me to describe a vision I had several nights ago when I was sitting on the patio at the yacht club on Northerly Island, where I am a member, looking across Burnham Harbor and suddenly…my eyes traveled from the big yachts on the water to Soldier Field and then they went left to the spot where a big white mountain of a museum could be sitting with 59 Norman Rockwells, Chewbacca dolls up the kazoo, a nice restaurant overlooking the habor, lots of green space surrounding it--and a designated area for Bears' tailgaters to boot.

Yes, there could stand The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, a Lily White mound containing--and entertaining--black and brown children aplenty, I thought.  A heady concept that maybe could attract a lot of moneyspenders from around the world to our fair city, filling up our hotels like they haven't since 1893.

My eyes traveled further left and landed on McCormick Place East, the iconic mid-century architectural landmark that is beautiful and impressive, that says Chicago is a city of big shoulders and big ideas and big dreams that sometimes don't come true.  A building that McPier officials want to tear down, so they can pay politically connected contractors to build a replacement somewhere else.

Seeing all of this, if I were Friends of the Parks, this is what I'd do:  I'd negotiate my way out of this mess and let Lucas have his way.

But.  (A big but here.)  GET A LOT OF THINGS IN RETURN.

Yes, Lucas won't be easy to deal with.  He's never said a thing to Chicagoans about his plans--he let Tiny and the Chicago Park District ram it through instead--and he called the Disney people, who paid him $4 billion for Star Wars "white slavers."  And now he's got his wife--a smart, sweet telegenic finance guru who used to be nice as pie suddenly talking crazy, too.  (If you recall, she's the one who said without the Lucas Museum in Chicago, the black and brown children who live here won't be able to learn anything about the art of film.)

But Friends has a good lawyer and a stellar record of statesmanship to rely on.  And this is what it should get for us:

  • A museum that is no more "private" than the rest of the Museum Campus museums, the heads of which seem to want the big white cloud near them like nobody's business.  A restaurant?  OK!  But no better than what they have on their premises.  And the gift store should not be any better either.  Nor the admission prices--or venue rental rates--any higher.  The board should struggle to raise money like all the other cultural institutions in this city.  No exceptions.  The Lucas can't act Wall Street corporate--ever.  It has to be a not-for-profit through and through; otherwise no dice.
  • Plenty of green space around it for green space lovers.  And plenty of parking for tailgaters on Sunday mornings during the season.  No Bears fan should ever have to hunt for space to drink a beer or space to excrete it.  While the Lucas Museum stands.
  • The completion of the Last 4 Miles of lakefront--paid for by Lucas. He can well afford it in return for one of the most beautiful pieces of land in the world to house his legacy.
  • A new park somewhere else in the city that truly needs a new park, the exact same size as the Lucas Museum footprint--also, at Lucas' expense.
  • And last but not least, money should come from Lucas to fix up McCormick Place East so that it lasts.  So that any deterioration is halted and that there's no more excuse to tear it down.  Because the view--in a row--of Soldier Field, the Lucas Museum and Lakeside Center from the lake and from Northerly Island and from the west at the eastern edge of the City of Chicago should be the symbol of Chicago that toddlin' town forevermore.  Replacing the Picasso and Al Capone. That's us, baby, a triptych, a beautiful hodgepodge if there ever was one!

While this whole idea may not raise Tiny's approval rating with us constituents (that's a lost cause, I think), I do think it might raise the city's approval rating in the eyes of outsiders.  And many insiders, too.

Friends of the Parks stood its ground.  But often, in the end, the true sign of success means getting to YES.  For everyone.

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