Emanuel Plan Could Move Lucas Museum to McCormick Place

The proposal would demolish a building at McCormick Place to make way for the museum

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed a plan to demolish McCormick Place East and build George Lucas’ museum in its place.

The demolition of the building, known as Lakeside Center, would shore up 12 acres of prime lakefront real estate. The Lakeside Center was completed in 1971 and replaced the original McCormick Place, which burned down in 1967.

Emanuel's office confirmed that the mayor was in continued conversations with Lucas and his wife, Mellody Hobson about the museum. 

"There are ongoing conversations with George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, as well as a number of other stakeholders, aimed at making sure the Lucas Museum, and the cultural and educational opportunities it would offer, remains here in Chicago," Emanuel spokesperson Kelley Quinn said in a statement. "And while no decisions have been made, we have long agreed that the Lucas Museum would be an incredible addition to Chicago's Museum Campus."

mccormick lucas rendering
George Lucas Museum
Rendering shows latest proposal for the George Lucas Museum in Chicago.

Hobson remained hopeful about the museum and welcomed the new proposal.

“Similar to the current parking lot site, we believe McCormick Place would be an excellent location and extend the already world-class museum campus on Chicago's lakefront to the south side," Hobson said in a statement.

The current 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, the group remained open to the prospect of a new location for the museum.

“Friends of the Parks appreciates that the City of Chicago finally reached out to us yesterday with the mayor’s new idea for the Lucas Museum," Board Chair of Friends of the Parks Lauren Moltz said in a statement. "We will discuss and analyze this new information while we review the discovery materials we also just received from the City this week.”

Fearing a potential move to Los Angeles or San Francisco, Emanuel is pushing for the McCormick Place demolition as a means of keeping the museum in Chicago.

If the site is approved, it’s still unclear how the project would be financed. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority exhausted its excess bonding capacity to build a new hotel and a basketball arena for DePaul University that would also serve as McCormick Place’s “event center.”

The Chicago Park District currently owns the proposed site’s land, although it’s unclear whether they will be compensated for lost revenue if the building is demolished. If the park district isn’t compensated, Emanuel would violate a promise to build the museum without help from city taxpayers.

"There are some tradeoffs we'd have to make," Hobson told NBC Chicago. "It's actually more expensive to build there than the other location, but we said we want this to work."

Nevertheless, the plan has drawn support from the Museums in the Park Association, a coalition of Chicago museums located on park district property.

“The new proposal to replace McCormick Place East with the Lucas Museum on a portion of that site is an intriguing one, worthy of serious and open-minded consideration by all concerned,” Museum in the parks President Gary T. Johnson said in a statement. “The proposal offers the possibility of a location for the Lucas Museum on our existing museum campus that would dramatically add to the green space along the lakefront.” 

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