By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
Lawsuits, threats and George Lucas.
It’s a battle that’s filled with as much drama as the filmmaker’s Star Wars trilogy. Now, leaders in the Black community are joining the force to support the massive project.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday, May 4, asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit by Friends of the Parks, an organization that is trying to block an attempt to build the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on Chicago’s lakefront.
Emanuel made the appeal in an effort to keep the Lucas organization from moving the museum to another city.
“Friends of the Parks’ claims for federal relief are frivolous, and we can no longer wait for the competition of legal proceedings to correct these legal errors on appeal,” said the mayor in a statement. “Due to the extraordinary circumstances here, if immediate review is denied, there will be no litigation to appeal, as the museum will abandon its efforts to locate in Chicago.
It’s the latest development in a battle that took a turn for the worse two days earlier when Friends of the Parks stepped up its opposition against building the museum anywhere off South Lake Shore Drive.
That’s when the Lucas camp fired back with his announcement that his group is looking to build the museum outside Chicago, a move that will disappoint Mayor Rahm Eman- uel and Black leaders. They want Lucas to build his museum, hoping it will bring hundreds of needed jobs to the South Side.
Those goals have placed leaders against the Friends of the Parks’ activist organization that’s dedicated to protecting Chicago’s parks on the lakefront from development. In November, 2014, the organization filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the construction of the museum. On Monday, May 2, the organization decided to suspend legal action for 30 days to encourage a healthy dialogue between city and projects officials. In his latest proposal Emanuel wants to demolish the east convention center building at McCormick Place and build the museum on the site.
The $1 billion museum will be built on 12 acres. In addition to a museum, the attraction will also feature a 4,200 square foot library, three state of the art theaters, lecture halls, classrooms, a restaurant, and space for private events. Project planners estimate the museum will generate 1,850 jobs, including 1,500 construction positions.
The site was the second choice by Emanuel, who initially wanted to build the museum south of Soldier Field. That proposal drew heavy opposition from Friends of the Parks.
For a while, the Friends of the Parks’ proposal to suspend its litigation appeared to please both sides, but on Monday, May 2, Juanita Irizarry, the executive director of Friends of the Parks said Emanuel’s proposal on the alternative site, led to a split within her group. Friends of the Parks then reaffirmed their stance and said they opposed any development on the lakefront.
Lucas’ organization has grown fed up and is looking to launch their multi-million dollar project in another city. Lucas’ wife, financial wiz Mellody Hobson on Monday, sent an email expressing her frustrations at Friends of the Parks.
“My husband and I have worked in earnest for two years, side-by-side with every relevant city agency, community leader, and policy maker, to give what would be the largest philanthropic gift to an American city,” Hobson said in the statement. “From the beginning, this process has been co-opted and hijacked by a small interest group. While they claim to be ‘a strong steward of Chicago and a partner to its progress,’ their actions and decision rob our state of more than $2 billion in economic benefits, thousands of jobs and countless educational opportunities for children and adults alike.”
Leaders in the Black community have rallied behind the project, saying the attraction would help rejuvenate communities on the city’s beleaguered South Side.
“I’m saddened that the Friends of the Parks says it will oppose the new proposed site for the Lucas Museum, a billion dollar philanthropic investment that will create more lakefront parkland and greenery, more jobs, more inclusion, more tax base and more educational and cultural opportunities for our city’s children,” said Reverend Jesse Jackson in a statement.
Father Michael L. Pfleger, of Saint Sabina church, agreed.
“The so-called Friends of the Parks claim to want to preserve green space, this museum would not only get rid of an outdated elephant, but add green space,” said Pfleger in a statement. “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!”
In his request to dismiss Friends of the Parks lawsuit against the Lucas Museum, Emanuel took the risk in damaging talks with the organization.
For now, Friends of the Parks appears to be winning at least in court. A federal judge has ruled that Friends of the Parks has a valid claim that the museum may be a violation of public trust. His ruling has allowed the complaint to proceed.
Emanuel is not giving up. His appeals request is a desperate attempt to save a project that has many disagreeing about its possible value to the city.
“In an ordinary situation, we’d appeal the district court’s decision through the traditional appeal process, which takes time,” the mayor said in a statement. “But the museum is being actively pursued by other cities, and it is understandably unwilling to put this project on indefinite hold pending the final conclusion of this litigation.”