George Lucas museum faces lawsuit over planned lakefront location from Chicago parks group

By Bethany Krajelis | Nov 13, 2014

An advocacy group for Chicago parks filed a federal lawsuit Thursday in an attempt to thwart plans for  “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas’ museum to be located near the lakefront.

In its complaint against the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District, Friends of the Parks (FOTP) and a pair of Illinois residents assert the Lucas Museum of Narrative Act can’t be built in the city’s Museum Campus under the “public trust doctrine.”

This doctrine, according to the suit, states that “property recovered from the waters of Lake Michigan should be set aside and preserved as a natural resource and open space equally available to Illinois citizens for their use and enjoyment and for access to navigation, fishing and commerce on Lake Michigan.”

Because the state of Illinois holds this type of property in a trust for public use, the parks group contends the city and park district, without the authorization of the Illinois General Assembly, don’t have the power to hand over the lakefront spot to a private organization or approve construction of any new development on it.

Lucas selected Chicago this past summer as the site for his museum, which “will be a gathering place to experience narrative art and the evolution of moving images – from illustration to cinema to the digital mediums of the future,” its website states.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which will be operated by a not-profit by the same name, is set to be built in the parking lots south of Soldier Field, where it would join the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium to become a part of the city’s Museum Campus.

The location was recommended by a taskforce and endorsed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in May, according to FOTP’s lawsuit, which notes it was then listed as the site in a memorandum of understanding the Chicago Park District and museum entered into in September.

The complaint asserts this property “is located within Burnham Park and consists entirely of land recovered from the navigable waters of Lake Michigan” and as such, is being held by the state under the public trust doctrine, not the city or park district.

FOTP, however, alleges the defendants have claimed be the owner of this property “at various times,” but have not publicly “described the specific manner in which the property will be conveyed to allow for the construction of the museum.”

If the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is built on the trust property at issue, FOTP and the suit’s two individual, named plaintiffs --Sylvia Mann and John Buenz -- contend the defendants will interfere with their rights and the rights of all Illinois residents to use and enjoy the trust property.

The plaintiffs are being represented by Chicago attorneys Thomas H. Geoghegan, Michael P. Persoon and Sean Morales-Doyle or Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan Ltd.

The above photo is a rendering of a recently-released design of the planned museum and was taken from the museum's website.

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