This week, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he intended to move forward on a plan to bring George Lucas’ museum to the city waterfront. It seems like a charming idea: a museum of narrative art—stories told through imagery, like movies—seems like a pleasant place to visit and a worthwhile place to spend time. However, this particular museum comes at an extraordinary price: an estimated $1.2 billion, extending five taxes past their time, and consuming a vast area for long, long construction.
Despite a crumbling, harshly-criticized police force and an impending teachers’ strike, Emanuel defended the plan to bring the Museum of Narrative Art to Chicago. He argued that the attraction would provide a way to compete with other cities to lure visitors from around the world, calling the museum an “investment in the future that creates jobs and economic growth.”
The construction would demolish McCormick Place East, a convention space, which would allegedly be made up by adding additional space to the west of Lake Shore Drive. Emanuel said that a 2 percent hotel tax would remain in effect as well as four other taxes initially set to expire and which could generate close to $15 million a year in taxpayer subsidies. The museum would open 12 acres of public land. That hotel tax was used to pay off debts for the U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox play. That debt, set to expire at the end of 2032, would stay alive until 2066.
The project will be financed via bonds and by a $750 million contribution by Lucas himself. Other funding would come from a 4.5-percent “day-to-day operations” tax as well as a 1 percent tax from special events and tourism.
Given Chicago’s other, and perhaps more pressing (a spiked murder rate seems awfully pressing) problems, this might not be the right time for the city to make room for an enormous and enormously expensive, museum. Still, Emanuel believes in the project.
“I would say the right thing to do is invest in the future,” he said. “While Springfield has its challenges, those challenges do not inhibit the ability to grow the cultural, educational and business and economic future of the city in Chicago. One of the largest employers in the city is the convention and hospitality industry.”