A rendering of what the proposed Lucas museum would look like on the land currently occupied by McCormick Place East. Credit: Lucas Museum of Narrative Art/Sun-Times

In an effort to demonstrate just how far he’ll go before adequately funding Chicago Public Schools, Mayor Emanuel has proposed a multibillion dollar Rube Goldberg scheme to pay for demolishing McCormick Place and replacing it with George Lucas’s proposed Star Wars museum.

A project no one asked for or even knew we needed.

Of course, the Lucas Museum could just as easily go on the big swathe of land the city already owns just up the road from McCormick Place, where Michael Reese Hospital used to be.

But why would the mayor do something so logical, with so many other galaxies of waste and absurdity left to conquer?

Not so coincidentally, news of the mayor’s Lucas/McCormick scheme broke on the same day that schools CEO Forrest Claypool announced that CPS couldn’t afford to up its contract offer to teachers because it’s so broke it would have to borrow more money “to keep the doors open.”

Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis responded by saying that her union’s poised to strike because it doesn’t believe the system’s as broke as Claypool and Emanuel say it is.

Apparently, experience has taught Lewis that there’s always money tucked away somewhere in a back drawer that the mayor doesn’t want to spend on schools, kids, or teachers.

Especially teachers.

Sure enough, as if on cue, Mayor Vader magically finds $1.2 billion or so to fund his Lucas/McCormick extravaganza.

As if anyone believes this project wouldn’t wind up costing twice as much.

The mayor claims he’ll pay for the project by borrowing against future hotel taxes so it won’t cost taxpayers any money.

Got that, people? It won’t cost you a dime.

Oh, how did he put it?

“This is a very creative financing solution. We are not laying out any money. We aren’t using any taxes.”

Wait! That’s what one of Mayor Daley’s advisers said in 2008, when they promised it wouldn’t cost taxpayer money to build the Olympic Village on the old Michael Reese site at 31st and King Drive.

Guess again. That cockamamie TIF-funded deal went belly up, so now you, the taxpayer, are paying $120.7 million to Medline, the land’s previous owner. 

Speaking of money that might have gone to the schools.

But regarding the Lucas/McCormick deal, the mayor told reporters Tuesday that “There’s a hotel tax which is visitors that come to the city of Chicago. And so fees that already exist, it’s not new taxes.”

I’ll save the details on how the hotel tax works for another day. But for the moment, let’s just consider the project’s opportunity costs. 

There’s only so much money you can squeeze from the stone, my friends.
If you spend all that hotel tax money on Lucas/McCormick, you can’t spend it elsewhere, like on schools, parks, police, etc.

And you can’t use it to help pay off the pension obligations Mayor Daley left unpaid while he was pursuing his dreams and schemes.

In other words, you can’t have it all—a lesson Emanuel claims he learned from the Daley years.

Apparently, Emanuel forgot that lesson soon after he learned it.

Mr. Mayor, do us a favor and dump this deal in the trash bin of bad ideas you never should have announced to start with.