Chicago Has a Choice to Make:

The Lucas Museum or Friends of Economic Stagnation

Chicago Defender Editorial Commentary

By Shari Runner

Shari Runner
President and CEO, Chicago Urban League

Our elected local officials and community members are constantly challenged by the need to balance fiscal, social, economic, and environmental goals. Balancing these pillars is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one.

The vibrancy of Chicago’s unique lakefront asset has grown out of the initiatives of individuals, institutions, and advocacy groups, working together to realize its potential.

However, contrary to recently heightened assertions by the Friends of the Parks, what’s missing along the lakefront and in the city of Chicago is not green space. What’s missing is the long-term investment to the benefit of all parts of the community.

Chicago is suffering the effects of deindustrialization and disinvestment that have left the city with few resources to meet the needs of its diverse residents, most notably its low-income African American communities.

And so here we are, at a time when more people and businesses are moving out than moving into the city, Chicago’s unemployment rate is well above the national average, and nearly half of young Black men are out of work … finding ourselves in the midst of a lawsuit to halt construction on a project that would help lift up the socio-economic landscape of our city. A lawsuit that is predicated on a more than 150-year-old antiquated public trust doctrine governing the lakefront that stipulates that this public land is to remain “forever open, clear and free.”

Friends of the Parks should be applauded for their singular focus to preserve, protect, improve and promote the use of all parks and open spaces, throughout the Chicago area, for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors. We all have a vested interest in making sure our open spaces are appropriately protected.

That said, champions of the people must demand that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts be allowed to be built as planned. Quality development, coupled with targeted open space preservation, improves the quality of life for us all. It is for these multi-dimensional reasons that Friends of the Parks should reconsider their opposition to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts. We cannot afford not to do so.

The proposed plan to build the Lucas Museum at the McCormick East site will add 12 new acres of free and accessible public parkland. It would be built and paid for entirely by George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, a financial contribution in excess of $1.5 billion.

This offers positive multiplier effects for African Americans and the city as a whole. It will create jobs and economic growth during construction and once operational. It will also be a catalyst for regenerating a part of the lakefront that has been under-utilized for a long period of time.

Additionally, by a significant margin, this would be the largest philanthropic gift in history to a cultural institution in Chicago, creating:

  • 1,500 to 2,500 construction jobs and delivering $125m to $200m in construction wages for the city and region;

  • $60M to $95M in construction-related contracts for minority-owned businesses, and $10M to $12M in non-construction-related contracts;

  • $10M to $16M in construction-related contracts for women-owned businesses, and $2M to $2.5M in non-construction-related contracts; and

  • 350-400 jobs at the Lucas Museum.

Beyond the numbers, the Lucas Museum will house one of the world’s greatest collections of Norman Rockwell art, and feature the most important works of narrative art, fantasy, science fiction, and Americana of the 19th and 20th centuries. If our children have heightened opportunities to be exposed to art and innovation, it will help to develop a pipeline of inspired and engaged innovators and hopeful citizens. The Lucas Museum will sit upon one site – and its impact will spread across the city and state.

If the Lucas Museum is not allowed to be built on the lakefront, Chicago is sending a signal to every developer across the state, country, and world to stay away from the city because we are not progressive or business friendly.

We must ask ourselves, do we want jobs? Do we want economic development? Do we want private investment?

Chicago has a choice to make. We can either stay rooted in the economic stagnation or move forward. On behalf of the people the Chicago Urban League serves, we choose moving forward.

Join me in urging the Friends of the Parks to do what’s in the best interest of the city and drop its lawsuit. A balancing act to be sure.

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