George Lucas Museum Faces Potential Lawsuit Over Chicago Location

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, George Lucas

Opponents in the Windy City, which won the $1 billion site over L.A. and San Francisco, now threaten to sue over threats to open space and NFL tailgating.

This story first appeared in the July 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The uproar surrounding George Lucas' effort to build his private museum appears to be far from over.

After the Star Wars billionaire announced in June that Chicago will be the home of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art — ending a long-running battle over his initial proposal to build it near Lucasfilm headquarters in the Presidio in San Francisco — political opposition now is growing in the Windy City.

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Chicago's open space advocates are vowing to file a lawsuit to block Lucas, 70, from building the $1 billion facility on a lakefront tract near Soldier Field. They allege the 95,000-square-foot museum — which will house the filmmaker's movie memorabilia, examples of visual effects pioneered at Industrial Light and Magic and his collection of American art by painters including Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish — would violate city ordinances that were designed to preserve space adjacent to Lake Michigan for public use.

Other opponents of the plan include aldermen who believe the museum should be built downtown or in one of the city's economically disadvantaged wards, as well as Bears fans concerned that the loss of two parking lots to the new building will deprive them of NFL pregame tailgating space.

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was instrumental in landing the museum (as was Lucas' wife and Chicago native Mellody Hobson), said at a recent press conference that he has no doubt the museum's location will survive a legal challenge. Emanuel insisted that beyond the gift of $1-per-year rent for the land, no taxpayer money will go into the project, which Lucas hopes to open in 2018. "Our contribution is two parking lots," said Emanuel, citing the jobs and economic benefit to the city.

In the Bay Area, where Lucas lives, recriminations still are flying over the one that got away. Lucas initially wanted to site the museum in the old Presidio commissary area. Despite influential support, that plan was rejected as incompatible with the area's "historic character" and role as a national landmark and park. Lucas turned down another site in the Presidio, as well as one on the water near the Bay Bridge. He also rejected an eleventh-hour bid by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to lure the museum to Exposition Park near USC, from which Lucas graduated in 1966 (he is a major donor to its film school).

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"I talked with George," says Garcetti. "He was the perfect gentleman." But despite an L.A. proposal that would have fast-tracked the city's usually cumbersome approval process, Lucas' mind was made up. "They'll have a great place," says Garcetti, adding that if it doesn't work out, there's still an opportunity in L.A.