Chicago Park District signs off on lakefront land for Lucas Museum

CHICAGO (STMW) - The Chicago Park District board on Wednesday unanimously signed off on a 99-year lease of lakefront land south of Soldier Field for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

It’s the latest green light for the massive $400 million museum project that will be privately financed by filmmaker George Lucas. It would include a parking structure on the west side of Lake Shore Drive, more green space and up to 300,000 square feet of museum space — 100,000 less originally planned for the seven-story structure, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Plans also include nearly 5 acres of green space to be divided in a garden, an event prairie, an eco-park and a dune field.

But the museum — which will focus on visual storytelling — is still in the midst of a federal lawsuit filed by Friends of the Park, which opposes the use of public lakefront land for the museum.

Before the vote, Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly called the museum a “gift” that will offer very much to the city.

“Like the Obama Presidential Library, this is our chance to make history and improve the quality of life in this city,” Kelly told the board, adding the decision isn’t easy.

“In my history at the Chicago Park District, neither was adding the Museum of Contemporary Art, the conversion of Meigs Field to Northerly Island, and most recently the Obama Presidential Library. But this is a chance to make history for the city of Chicago,” he said.

Before the Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the lease, board President Bryan Traubert said the decision is “arguably the most important” any members of the board can make.

Traubert said he doesn’t view the lease as private use, nor does he view the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium or Adler Planetarium as private use: “Our parks are enhanced by the presence of those museums and our lives would be diminished if they did not exist.”

Traubert said the museum will allow more people to enjoy the lakefront, and the parking lot will be used for decades to come. He also cited the lack of financial cost to the park district. The parkland they are leasing will be maintained by the museum and not by taxpayer dollars.

“The odds are overwhelming that this will not only be a popular museum but one that will greatly add to the cultural landscape of Chicago,” Traubert said. “For these reasons, I have concluded that this is in the best interest of the Chicago Park District and the people of Chicago.”

Friends of the Park did not respond to a request for comment.

The lease still must be approved by the city’s Department of Zoning and the city’s Plan Commission. If it crosses those hurdles, the museum will be up and operating by 2019 or 2020.