Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why the Lucas Museum Helps Obama Library Pitch

The "Star Wars" filmmaker's bold project steals thunder from POTUS-directed pitches

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Why the Lucas Museum Helps Obama Library Pitch

Chicago pulled off a major coup this week by stealing the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art away from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the big push to score President Obama's library remains up in the air as competitors from Honolulu and New York City launch rival bids for the much-coveted presidential prize.

Worth asking: Could George Lucas be responsible for Obama selecting his home state of Hawaii over the city where he became famous? Given the irresistible draw of "Star Wars" movie memorabilia among global sci-fi geeks, the Nobel Prize-winning president could be wary of sharing the spotlight with Yoda and the gang.

City Hall officials confirmed to NBC on Tuesday that Lucas opted to house his namesake museum near the scenic vista of Lake Michigan rather than his West Coast home base. Mayor Rahm Emanuel lobbied aggressively to land the future tourist magnet but ultimately Lucas' choice may have come down to pleasing his wife, Mellody Hobson, a Chicago native and president of the firm Ariel Investments, based in the Loop.

"Choosing Chicago is the right decision for the museum, but a difficult decision for me personally because of my strong personal and professional roots in San Francisco," conceded Lucas, who hails from Modesto, Calif., in a statement, praising the 17-acre Chicago site's "quality" and "unparalleled visitor access."

Not surprisingly, Emanuel was psyched, touting the museum's job creation potential and calling its construction a "significant step" for the city. It will host the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" auteur's collection of art and film archives, and is expected to open sometime in 2018. City Hall projects the institution will rake in $2-$2.5 billion in tax and tourism dollars over 10 years.

The re-election-seeking mayor, in recovery-and-damage-control mode from an onslaught of negative press in recent months, has stepped up his ambitious goal to lure 55 million tourists to the Windy City by 2020 as part of a campaign to transform the Midwestern metropolis into an international hotspot.

Nabbing the Obama library would give Emanuel much to brag about. Losing it would be a huge blow to the mega-competitive boss' plans for an urban makeover.

POTUS' foundation received more than a dozen proposals last week and promised to judge them fairly before narrowing down the candidate pool later this summer. A winner will be chosen in early 2015.

Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, sits on UIC's committee pitching the campus as a location for the library. He told Ward Room on Wednesday that the acquisition of the Lucas museum "improves the chances" of winning the Obama tourist attraction.

Once the president sees that "even the private sector concludes" that Chicago offers value -- especially a bigwig outsider like Lucas -- his interest in having it here will only grow, said Simpson.

The combined allure of Lucas and Obama could generate boffo business and hundreds of new jobs in this cash-strapped town, plagued by a looming $600 million pension crisis that led Moody's to downgrade Chicago's debt rating last week.

"We're already a global city," Simpson insisted. "But (the Obama library) and the Lucas museum add dimensions to the foundation that is already here."

Come, the tourists will.

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