Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended his expensive new plan to build George Lucas’ Museum of Narrative Art along the city’s lakefront Tuesday.
In order to fund the project, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, a municipal corporation created by the Illinois General Assembly, would execute $1.165 billion in bond financing for the museum and other new buildings on the site, City Hall sources confirmed.
The funding will rely on raising five existing tourism taxes, including a 2 percent hotel tax.
"What pays it is a hotel tax, which is visitors who come to the City of Chicago. It’s fees that already exist,” Emanuel said Tuesday. “It’s not new taxes.”
Demolition of the Lakeside Center and the museum’s construction will account for $665 million. This is offset by Lucas’ donation of $743 million to the project.
In addition to this, the expansion and modernization of McCormick Place will cost another $500 million. This will allow McCormick Place to be reconfigured into the world’s largest contiguous exhibition space.
Without Lucas’ upfront financing, the MPEA would not be able to finance the space’s reconfiguration.
The project would also restore 12 acres of park space and add an additional 1,800 parking spots to the site. In addition to this, 8,000 construction jobs would be created and an additional 700 jobs in museum operations would be added.
“People who will come because of the museum that is an investment in the future that creates jobs and economic growth,” Emanuel said.
The project relies on approval from Springfield and Chicago aldermen. A group of aldermen seemed cautious about the proposal Tuesday.
“I think the timing is horrendous,” Ald. Susan Sadlowski said. “We are in a hole in so many aspects of the city we can’t look to borrow any more money.”
The original site for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is located between Soldier Field and McCormick Place. Emanuel originally planned to give Lucas 17 acres of lakefront land, but the construction of the museum on that site has been held up by a lawsuit filed by Friends of the Parks.
The group’s main argument is that the museum’s 99-year lease wouldn’t benefit the public and would promote private and commercial interests. The group also claims the museum would detract from the city’s lakefront and add to traffic woes in the area.
Nevertheless, Friends of the Park remained open to the prospect of a new location for the museum last week.
Emanuel spoke frankly Tuesday about losing the museum to other cities.
“Are we going to have the confidence in Chicago and Chicago’s future and be willing to invest in the future to compete against Orlando, New York and Vegas,” Emanuel said. “Other cities are not resting on their laurels."
Lucas’ wife, Mellody Hobson, said the couple was looking at other cities last week.
“We have to consider the other cities because we want it built,” Hobson said.