lucasmuseumpicThe Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is the latest problem that has sat at the doorstep of Mayor Rahm Emanuel like an abandoned infant with no safe haven.

With the heightened problems that have plagued our community rearing their ugly heads, the average Black Chicagoan is not fazed as to whether Mr. and Mrs. George Lucas take their $1.17 billion museum to another city.  

Ever since the initial news of the City of Chicago selling the Lucas’ the land south of Soldier’s Field on the lakefront for $10, the museum proposal has not fared well with Chicagoans.

Now plans are to build the museum on the land where the Lakeside Center-East McCormick Place sits and that includes the Arie Crown Theater.

In the midst of the largest tax hike in Chicago history, a state budget teetering on financial Armageddon and the Chicago Teachers Union pushing for a strike, how does “the force” help Chicagoans? Or better yet – how does it benefit the African-American community?

A native of Chicago and wife of Hollywood’s most influential producers and creators, Mellody Hobson is a powerhouse in the financial world as the President of Ariel Investments.hobsonandlucas

Her community outreach is familiar with key stakeholders, as she has been involved with helping various organizations and causes long before becoming Mrs. George Lucas.

Hobson grew up between the North and South Sides, attending St. Ignatius High School and later achieving academic success at Princeton University. Her grit and determination was like no other as some have observed.

She worked at a young age helping her mother – a single mom – clean rental units, working to buy properties in order to convert them into condominiums.

Hobson’s attributes to building a successful career in the financial world began at Ariel Investments, where founder, CEO and Chairman John Rogers immediately hired her after she graduated from Princeton.

She earned her AB from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations and Public Policy. She serves as chairman of the board of trustees for Ariel Investment Trust, and in addition, she is the chairman of the board for DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc., and a director of The Estee Lauder Companies Inc. and Starbucks Corporation.

Her influence in making Chicago the home of the Lucas museum primarily rest on benefiting educational initiatives in arts, technology and culture for students.  Hobson is the chairman of After School Matters and has donated over $30 million along with her husband George Lucas.

Official Disappointment

Hobson recently released an official statement on her disappointment of the holdup in getting the museum done in Chicago.  Hobson said, “As an African-American who has spent my entire life in this city I love, it saddens me that young Black and brown children will be denied the chance to benefit from what this museum will offer.

As Chair of the Board of After School Matters, which serves 15,000 public high school students in Chicago and has more demand than can ever be met, I have seen first-hand what art can do to spur imagination and creativity, heal the soul and advance society – something so needed right now.”

mellodyhobsonHobson is one of the top leaders in the financial world and one of the most recognizable faces in her field.  Her public appeal has increased over the years as a regular contributor and analyst on CBS News as well as sharing money tips on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

“This is a city of big shoulders and a metropolis that is second to none. In refusing to accept the extraordinary public benefits of the museum, the Friends of the Parks has proven itself to be no friend of Chicago,” Hobson went on to say.

“We are now seriously pursuing locations outside of Chicago. If the museum is forced to leave, it will be because of the Friends of the Parks and that is no victory for anyone.”

With the various developments taking place in the South Loop, there is a resurgence in commercial and luxury residential high-rise buildings take shape along Cermak Road.

What was historically known as “Record Row” and in the late 1980s was a bustling nightlife haven for Black club goers – is being replaced with under-the-radar gentrification.  

Black leaders have not cried out about being edged further south because of higher real estate costs and rents or neighboring complaints from White tenants on the overflow of Black club patrons entering or leaving the bars.

In all of the noise of re-development, the loudest voices that we’ve heard thus far have come from an advocacy group called Friends of the Parks.

That organization has become a thorn in Mayor Emanuel’s side since their opposition of the Children’s Museum being moved from Navy Pier to Grant Park; their opposition to building the Barack Obama Presidential Library on parkland; to now, with their opposition to the Lucas Museum being built on lakefront land.

Who Are Friends Of The Parks?

How does this group benefit Chicago residents seeking jobs and fair living wages that the Lucas Museum project would provide?

Has this advocacy group provided an alternate solution for minority contractors and suppliers that would provide similar opportunities for people of color who would have them if they worked on this project?

Though Friends of the Parks is taking the heat right now for possibly one of the biggest blows to the local economy, they are standing their ground.

The organization has been around for the past 40 years and acted as an “overseer” of Chicago parkland and spaces to ensure a better outdoor environment for residents.

The group released an official statement on May 3, one day after the City of Chicago filed a motion to stay the lawsuit with the court, which was scheduled to be heard by U.S. District Judge John Darrah on Tuesday but was postponed until June 15.  The courts could lift the order halting construction but advised that if FOTP prevails in their legal fight–the initial build-out could be dismantled. 

The statement read:  “Friends of the Parks is willing to work collaboratively with the Lucas Museum, the Mayor’s Office, the Chicago Park District, the community and our open space partners to find an alternative site that is not on the lakefront or on a site that shrinks the city’s public open space. It also must be feasible financially and secure broad community support.

“Already, we have met with central participants in the Lucas Museum issue, including Mellody Hobson, on behalf of her husband George Lucas; Chicago’s deputy mayor and general counsel; and Father Michael Pfleger on a museum’s impact on jobs and the economy, among others.”

The Chicago Defender reached out to Friends of the Parks Executive Director, Juanita Irizarry for a comment on the latest developments. At press time, our call was not returned.

The last two major oppositions that have occurred with court injunctions included locations either in the Black community or less than 1.5 miles from a predominately African-American community.

Trade Jobs For Blacks

bronzevillepic1Over a week ago, the announcement by Rep. Bobby Rush and Mayor Emanuel of utilizing Dunbar Career Academy as a flagship high school for a citywide trades program to equip students with workforce skills turned the tides for the school.

At the announcing press conference, surrounded by community and faith leaders along with Local union representatives the hope of recognizing the need of training students with a professional skill sealed more evidence on the additional jobs required to fulfill the construction needs. Moreso, how does this translate into the percentage of jobs for African-American residents?

It only makes sense that students trained for a working skill such as an electrician, plumber, carpenter or mechanic would be considered for some of the jobs under the apprenticeship of a contractor company securing these jobs.

Since Dunbar Career Academy’s trades program will be the first flagship open enrollment school, it is open to students from across the city. If the school’s percentage of African-American students decreases, so does the opportunity to access the skilled and union based jobs that are required to work on projects such as the Lucas Museum.

Plans to expand additional exhibition and convention space would include building to the west over King Drive around the existing McCormick Place buildings. This would make McCormick the largest and interactive show space in the country.

The build out for the new space would cost an estimated $500 million, as well as $655 million for bringing down the Lakeside Center and keeping part of the building structure.

The proposal to expand west King Drive is a major undertaking and will change both the commercial and residential landscape of the community.

As a new Mariano’s market is being completed on 39th and King Drive, the cultural facelift is evident with more non-Blacks moving further South into the Oakwood and Bronzeville communities.

bronzevillemuralThe needs of a grocery store in a vibrant neighborhood that has grown in escalating real estate costs has also endured the food drought of not having a full-service grocery store within a .5-mile radius.

Residents find themselves shopping at the Jewel at the Lake Meadows mall complex, Wal-Mart Grocery on 47th and Cottage or Treasure Island in Hyde Park. Compared to the North Side neighborhoods where there is a better and closer selection of grocery and retail stores, this also equates to lack of jobs and lack of economic stimulation in the community.

Enormous Economic Gift

“The Lucas Museum is an incredible gift that would create enormous economic and cultural opportunities for our residents, which is why cultural, business, labor, community and faith leaders all agree that the museum and the jobs it would create should stay here in Chicago,” said Mayor Emanuel.

The build out can create close to 1,500 construction jobs ensuring additional employment. According to an economic report, the museum could take in an estimated $2 billion over the next 10 years from tourism revenue.

What some residents fear is whether the development will drive up property taxes, pushing generations of Black residents out of their homes?

Will the job opportunities mentioned by familiar community figures such as Dr. Leon Finney and Rev. Father Pfleger guarantee jobs for African-American workers or will we continue to be overlooked, while other ethnic groups are hired – a scenario that has become familiar on construction jobs and sites in Black neighborhoods?

These are honest and fair questions that go beyond the barbershop and coffee counter discussions in our communities, according to some activists, who argue that a closed mouth does not get fed and that it’s important to raise these concerns that affect thousands of lives.

There has been a great deal of financial haggling and raising of revenue by both the city and McCormick Place’s parent company, the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority.

There are various players in this chess game to make it work for all invested partners, but the final sign-off would need to be authorized by the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner.

As the battle ensues between the City of Chicago and Friends of the Parks, the Lucas Museum Foundation has made it very clear they are pursuing other options outside of Chicago.

The saga plays out like another Star Wars edition in the Lucas film collection, but there is no fantasy or science fiction in this script.

May the force be with us all.

Follow Mary L. Datcher on Twitter

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