Credit: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

Was it something she said?

Tuesday morning, Friends of the Parks issued a statement acknowledging that the group had agreed to a pause in its lawsuit seeking to keep the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art from building on a lakefront Park District parking lot. The pause would allow time for the city to pursue an alternative location at the current site of the Lakeside Center at McCormick Place. The statement was ambiguous as to the group’s ultimate position on the alternative site.    

However, comments by Friends of the Parks executive director Juanita Irizarry to reporters who called her to follow up on that announcement went further.

Crain’s, for example, reported that “Friends of the Parks today flatly rejected Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s latest plan to save the Lucas Museum.”

The Sun-Times wrote that Irizarry told them, “Mr. Lucas and the city only wanted a lakefront site and we do not believe that is acceptable.”

Headlines at the dailies‘ websites proclaimed a “death blow.”   

And late Tuesday afternoon, the Lucas Museum issued its own statement, in which Lucas’s spouse, Mellody Hobson, announced that the museum is “now seriously pursuing locations outside of Chicago.”

The museum statement, which ignores the possibility of any site not on the lakefront, is positioned as a response to an “announcement” by Friends of the Parks “rejecting a compromise location for the museum.” 

But the group’s written statement didn’t exactly do that (though it asked for a “serious investigation” of locations other than the lakefront). And Irizarry told me earlier Tuesday that the board has not yet voted on whether Friends of the Parks would go to court to keep the museum off the McCormick Place site.

“We certainly will continue to advocate away from having development on the lakefront, and are continuing to let the city know we believe that a third option, somewhere away from the lakefront, is really what we’re interested in,” she said.

But would the group sue?

“I literally don’t know the answer to that question at this point,” Irizarry replied. “There has not been a vote on the legal option. But we certainly keep that option open.”

Here’s the full Lucas Museum statement:

CHICAGO – The following statement is by Mellody Hobson on behalf of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art following Friends of the Parks announcement rejecting a compromise location for the museum:

“My husband and I have worked in earnest for two years, side-by-side with every relevant city agency, community leader, and policy maker, to give what would be the largest philanthropic gift to an American city in the 21st century. From the beginning, this process has been co-opted and hijacked by a small special interest group. When the Friends of the Parks sued the city in order to preserve a parking lot, we were offered a different and feasible solution—the replacement of an underutilized and outdated convention space that would also add more than 12 acres of new parkland. Yet, even with this additional park space, an organization that claims to ‘preserve, protect, improve and promote the use of parks and open space’ now opposes this as well. While they claim to be a ‘strong steward of Chicago and a partner to its progress,’ their actions and decision rob our state of more than $2 billion in economic benefits, thousands of jobs and countless educational opportunities for children and adults alike.

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 firsthand what art can do to spur imagination and creativity, heal the soul and advance society—something so needed right now. 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. 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.”

And here’s the earlier Friends of the Parks statement:

From: Friends of the Parks

CHICAGO, May 3, 2016 – Friends of the Parks has agreed with the City of Chicago’s request that we stay our pending lawsuit to stop construction of George Lucas’ lakefront museum on the proposed site adjacent to Soldier Field. The City has informed U.S. District Court John Darrah of that. We acquiesced because the city is now prioritizing another site. Any stay still enables us to reinstate the lawsuit, if necessary.

Meanwhile, the stay gives all parties the opportunity to have a more direct and productive dialogue to reach a potential solution about a museum site. We support such an open forum.

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 isn’t on
the lakefront or on a site that shrinks the city’s public open space.

Already, we have met with several of the museum’s central participants, 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 other parties.

From any multilateral discussions, we seek this:

The active and serious investigation of other possible non-lakefront sites that include, among others, the former Michael Reese Hospital property; the site at 18th street across from the original location and across Lake Shore Drive, and the marshalling yards west of McCormick Place for trucks and recreational vehicles.

A strong grasp of the impact the museum would have on jobs, particularly to South Side residents; tourism and the economy in general; taxes and other costs to Chicago residents; and educational benefits.

Clear specifics about any proposed site and plan that promises to generate the most viability and create more park space for Chicago residents and visitors to enjoy.

As a strong steward of Chicago and a partner to its progress, Friends of the Parks understands and appreciates the benefits to jobs and to the city’s economy that tourist attractions such as the proposed Lucas Museum deliver, especially to the city’s South Side. As a public policy organization, we encourage fruitful discussions about such benefits that go beyond park-related issues.

At the same time and to be clear, our 40-year-old organization reaffirms our enduring commitment and mission “to preserve, protect, promote and improve the use of our parks and open spaces throughout the
Chicago area for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors.”

We have an absolute duty to fight to uphold the Public Trust Doctrine that requires the welfare of the public over the benefit of others as it applies to the use of land created by the infill of Lake Michigan.

Update, 3:51 PM:

Mayor Emanuel issued a statement Wednesday saying that he plans to ask a higher court to instruct the lower court to dismiss the Friends of the Parks’ lawsuit: 

“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. After having productive conversations with Friends of the Parks, and after the organization agreed to stay its lawsuit, their abrupt and complete change of position has proven that they cannot be trusted, and we will not allow them to hold this project hostage any longer. As Mellody Hobson’s recent comments indicate, Chicago will lose the museum and its tremendous economic benefits if this lawsuit is not resolved.
“Today, we are filing with the federal appellate court a petition for writ of mandamus, which requests that the appellate court direct the district court to dismiss the lawsuit. Friends of the Parks’ claims for federal relief are frivolous, and we can no longer wait for the completion of legal proceedings to correct these legal errors on appeal. Due to the extraordinary circumstances here, if immediate review is denied, there will be no litigation to appeal, as the museum will abandon its efforts to locate in Chicago.”