Usually when people are offered a gift, they accept with a thank you. Not so in the case of Chicago and the George Lucas family.
Mellody Hobson– Mrs. George Lucas – is a Chicago jewel. She knows and loves the city and is genuinely concerned about its people and its future.
She is a dear friend and wrote a financial advice column for N’DIGO some years ago. I like to think that we started her in media.
Smart and savvy, the native Chicagoan had the good fortune of marrying a very wealthy man, legendary Hollywood movie producer George Lucas.
She could have walked away from a life in the Windy City and moved to Hollywood to have her days occupied with the existence of a world-class socialite. But Mellody has made the choice of remaining in Chicago as a Black businesswoman.
The Lucas wedding was held on the South Side of Chicago at the Point, with a memorable performance by Prince.
She has participated in Chicago’s social life while maintaining her community roots, as well as her position in her company, Ariel Investments.
Mellody’s story is amazing. She is a graduate of Princeton University who started at Ariel as an intern and rose to become its president.
She has been a contributor in Chicago life as a donor, a patron, and a volunteer. When she married the movie icon, her lifestyle changed, but she didn’t. She is grounded and rooted in Chicago and introduced her husband George to the beauty and magnificence of the city she loves.
Lucas, of course, is the genius behind the entire Star Wars franchise. He wants to preserve the legacy of his work and art in Chicago and develop from it a museum that will promote science, math, cinema, production and the like.
It is a fantastic idea and a significant contribution. The Lucas family is making a donation to the city for the future. It is an economic stimulus and adds to the rich museum landscape of the city.
It is a futuristic move. It is ambitious. It is a gift beyond the average person’s scope because it of its grandeur. But the project requires the government to provide land and perhaps tax incentives to become realty.
The Lucas Museum would be an economic boon – a tourist stimulus and a cultural stimulus to the City of Chicago. The Lucas “gift” would be a financial contribution in excess of $1.5 billion.
It would rate as one of the largest philanthropic gifts in our history, on par with the Rosenwald’s and Field’s gifts of the Museum of Science and Industry and the Field Museum.
The Lucas gift would generate about $2 billion in tourism dollars and add approximately $120 to $160 million to the city’s tax base.
The construction of the museum alone would result in 1,500 to 2,500 jobs and contracts nearing $100 million for our cash strapped area.
In other words, it is a significant project in a lot of ways for the city that could ease some of our financial strains. The project in its current state is to be constructed at McCormick East and includes adding 12 new acres of free and accessible public parkland with an incredible lake view, one of the most beautiful in the world.
This is the second choice for the museum. The first choice was the parking lot on the museum campus that was contested in the courts.
The Friends of the Park Resistance
Forty years ago, Friends of the Parks was formed. They are watchdogs for Chicago Parks to be preserved as open spaces. Their mission, they say, is “to preserve, protect, improve and promote the use of parks and open spaces throughout the Chicago area for the enjoyment of all residents and visitors.”
As they protect and try to keep the parks open to the public, they are blocking the Lucas Museum. They are a powerful, elite group. Mellody Hobson nailed it when she said, “they may be friends of the parks, but they are not friends of the city.”
As the city grows and societal progress advances, change is inevitable as we move forward. Change is necessary. As we look at our city, its makeup, its needs, we know that an institution of this sort is a real gift to enhance the plight of our city.
I wonder if the Marshall Field family was put through these hoops when they introduced the Field Museum to the city on the lakefront.
I wonder if the Rosenwald family went through similar objections when they built out the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park on the lakefront.
I wonder if the Rockefeller family faced these challenges as they secured the University of Chicago.
Wealth is interesting – at some point the generosity and legacy is beyond the money. What will we be remembered for, becomes a real question.
Perhaps we need a new committee, maybe called Friends of the City, that can look futuristically on the reality of the city and move this project forward.
Is It Racial?
One cannot help but wonder if Mellody Hobson was not a Black woman would the Lucas gift be more acceptable and not objected to by Friends of the Parks.
I hope this is not a case of race, but the thought arises. And so it might also be the case with the Barack Obama Presidential Library.
Certainly it is not President Obama that wants his library to be built on the South Side of Chicago – it is Michelle Obama who is insisting that the library be a part of the Obama legacy for Chicago’s South Side. Both of these Black women understand what these projects mean to the richness of this city and the people that too often are neglected.
Mayor Emanuel’s program for the city includes new spaces, new buildings that make Chicago tourism attractive. His main criticism is that the buildouts have to move from downtown’s central business district to the neighborhoods.
The addition of the Lucas Museum to the McCormick Corridor is welcomed and fits a big picture plan. The Michael Reese Hospital site is prime property. The smart money suggests that it is destined for a casino.
Navy Pier receives a hotel, so it will be a self-contained tourist destination. And then there is talk that cable cars will run overhead. So, one can project tourism from Navy Pier to McCormick by air, land and water.
Hopefully the Lucas Museum fits somewhere in Chicago, even if lands at yet another destination. It is a nice gift. Thank you.