Everyday Chicagoans came armed with plenty of ideas Wednesday night about where to locate a home for George Lucas' collection of art and movie memorabilia.
But members of the Galactic Empire seemed to be otherwise engaged, as no one arrived in a "Star Wars" costume for the public hearing, which was held under the world's largest Tiffany stained-glass dome in an ornate, marble-walled hall at the Chicago Cultural Center.
A 12-member task force, which scheduled the hearing, has until mid-May to recommend a site for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum to Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The location selected by Emanuel will then compete against at least one known site in San Francisco, where the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" creator launched his career and spent most of his life, as well as sites in any other cities interested in landing the museum.
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A museum spokesman has declined to reveal the names of other interested cities.
"It would be interesting to have this type of museum because to me it would be hard to find anything to rival it," said Michael Howe, of Chicago, a graphic designer and art school graduate who was among the first to arrive for the public hearing. Chicago's "not an entertainment (industry) city compared with New York, Los Angeles and Toronto."
Chicago's edge is that Lucas lives here part time with his wife, Chicago native and Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson.
The hearing had the air of a professional business meeting, with most speakers bringing specific and plausible ideas.
Among the sites recommended: the Museum Campus alongside the Adler Planetarium, Shedd Aquarium and Field Museum; the dilapidated Uptown Theatre, which hasn't hosted a public event since the early 1980s; the Pullman neighborhood, where efforts are underway to create a national park; the South Shore neighborhood, including the vacant former U.S. Steel South Works site; land next to Soldier Field; the old main U.S. Post Office, now vacant and privately owned, which straddles the Eisenhower Expressway; and the former Essanay film studios, now owned by St. Augustine College, where thousands of silent films were made in the Uptown neighborhood.
"We need to knock the socks off George Lucas," said Chicagoan Allan Mellis, who proposed eight prominent sites, including Block 37 in the Loop and the older McCormick Place building, the Lakeside Center.
"Everyone had some great ideas about communities and stuff out here, but you gotta give him a place in the city of Chicago that's extravagant with a grandiose view," said Joe Serblin, 38, of Chicago, who pointed out that the site Lucas originally wanted for the museum in San Francisco had a spectacular view. "It's gotta be a crown jewel."
The museum would be on "the same physical scale as a lot of the cultural icons in our city," said task force co-chair Gillian Darlow, chief executive officer of the Polk Bros. Foundation.
When pressed by a speaker whether Lucas wanted to construct a facility of that grand of a scale, task force co-chair Kurt Summers Jr. jumped in and said that "iconic" was "not a paraphrase; that's a direct quote" from Lucas.
Summers added that Lucas is expecting Chicago to put "our best foot forward," offering a location and adjacent enhancements "that can be a great base and canvas for his vision."
The museum, which would house more than 500,000 pieces of movie memorabilia, has been looking for a home in San Francisco for four years. But in February, a national park board there, The Presidio Trust, rejected Lucas' preferred bayside location and offered him a less desirable site. Emanuel, meanwhile, has been pushing Lucas to consider Chicago.
Hobson and Lucas have committed at least $50 million to Chicago education charities since getting married last year.
City and museum officials have pledged the facility would be built without taxpayer support. Whether the city would transfer land to the museum or lease land to it for a negligible amount is not yet known. Eleven city museums operate on Chicago Park District land and receive taxpayer money that subsidizes a portion of their operations.