“Star Wars” creator George Lucas has selected Chicago over Los Angeles and San Francisco as the future home of his collection of art and movie memorabilia, according to a spokeswoman for the museum.
The museum's board Wednesday is expected to vote on a name change — from the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art — and destination.
Pending approval by the Chicago Plan Commission, Lucas' institution would be built on what are now parking lots between Soldier Field and McCormick Place and would open in 2018. Architectural renderings will be presented to city officials in early fall, according to a statement from the museum.
The decision to select Chicago reflects both a bungling of the billionaire's legacy project by the board of a national park in San Francisco as well as an aggressive lobbying effort by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“I am humbled to be joining such an extraordinary museum community and to be creating the museum in a city that has a long tradition of embracing the arts and architecture,” Lucas said in a statement. He added, “Choosing Chicago is the right decision for the museum, but a difficult decision for me personally because of my strong personal and professional roots in the Bay Area.”
Lucas declined an interview request through a spokeswoman.
The 70-year-old filmmaker is a native of Modesto, Calif., but he built his career in San Francisco. He never made a movie in Hollywood. He recently married a Chicagoan, Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson, and lives here part time.
The museum will house a collection that includes valuable Norman Rockwell paintings, examples of the special effects he pioneered at Industrial Light & Magic, and memorabilia such as the Darth Vader costume.
The works are wrapped around the theme of storytelling. Many pieces, such as Lucas' collection of magazine illustrations, predate the arrival of moving pictures, television and radio, said Laurie Norton Moffatt, chief executive officer of the Norman Rockwell Museum, who is advising Lucas.
“It's still an emerging and growing collection,” she said. She noted that Lucas “has an extraordinary collection of movie posters. I think he has the largest collection in the world.”
According to a source, two factors weighed in Chicago's favor.
One was that the city draws far more tourists than San Francisco. Chicago set a record in 2012 with 46.37 million visitors while the city of San Francisco attracted 16.51 million visitors that year, according to the San Francisco Travel Association.
In addition, the site Emanuel offered is near the Museum Campus, home to the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. Lucas hopes to collaborate with his prospective neighbors, the source said.
“I just got off the phone with George Lucas and Mellody Hobson to thank them for choosing Chicago, the most American of American cities,” Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday. “With this new museum, the Lucas museum, we have a tremendous opportunity in the city of Chicago, as they partner with the schools throughout the city of Chicago and make a tremendous investment in the city.”
Still, the museum has drawn opposition from open-space advocates, such as Friends of the Parks.
Among the 14 “basic policies” of the Lakefront Plan of Chicago, adopted by the city council in 1973, is that “in no instance will further private development be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.” And the Lakefront Protection Ordinance says that the plan commission's decisions “shall be made in conformity with” those policies.
“We will do what it takes and that very well may be a lawsuit,” Friends of the Parks President Cassandra Francis said. “We are in coalition-building mode, but we are very optimistic, based on discussions, that we will have a broad group of organizations joining us” in opposing the lakefront location for the museum.
Under Emanuel's plan, the two Chicago Park District-owned parking lots would be leased to the museum for $1, which is similar to arrangements other large cultural institutions have with the Park District.
But unlike other museums, the Lucas museum would not receive taxpayer subsidies to cover a portion of its operations, a top mayoral aide has said.
The parking lots would be moved underground at Lucas' expense, the city has said.
What that means for Chicago Bears tailgaters remains unclear.
While Emanuel did not take questions Tuesday, he did respond to a shouted question about tailgating: “We've worked that issue out, and it will be continued.”
The theory is that the parking lots are an ideal location because the museum would draw conventioneers from neighboring McCormick Place. In addition, the 17-acre plot of land is large enough to house the museum while leaving about 12 acres for new green space.
The city got a shot at the museum because Lucas was unable to nail down an agreement for his first choice: a San Francisco bayside location on Crissy Field, part of a former Army base that was turned into an urban national park known as the Presidio. In a statement Tuesday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said the Presidio's board “unwisely rejected” Lucas' preferred site and “forced” him to consider Chicago.
“These opportunities to attract hundreds of millions of dollars in private and philanthropic investment to create new public amenities for arts and education, as Mr. Lucas had proposed, come along rarely,” Lee said. “I am disappointed that San Francisco will not benefit from this renowned art collection and significant private investment by Mr. Lucas that would have been enjoyed by our families and children for generations to come.”
In addition to covering construction costs, Lucas has said the museum would accumulate a $400 million endowment over time.
Since marrying, Lucas and Hobson have given generously to Chicago institutions, committing $25 million each to two local, education-focused charities: the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and After School Matters.
Lucas is worth an estimated $5.1 billion, putting him at No. 296 on Forbes' list of the world's billionaires. If he lived here full time, he would be Chicago's second-wealthiest resident.
Tribune reporters Bill Ruthhart, Blair Kamin and Mitch Smith contributed.
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