Chicago Files Emergency Petition in Museum Fight

     CHICAGO (CN) — The city of Chicago took the unusual step of directly petitioning the Seventh Circuit to dismiss a conservation group’s lawsuit challenging the city’s plans to build George Lucas’ museum on park land.
     After much negotiation, Star Wars creator George Lucas announced a plan to build his Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago.
     The city agreed to lease prime lakefront land in walking distance of downtown to Lucas for 99 years — for just $10.
     But that spot is currently park land used as a parking lot, and a group called Friends of the Parks has challenged the plan in federal court, claiming that the proposed lease will improperly hand over public park land for private use.
     With the delay and negative publicity caused by the lawsuit, Lucas has indicated he may take his planned museum elsewhere.
     In a last ditch effort to keep the museum in Chicago, the city on Wednesday sought an “extraordinary remedy” from the Seventh Circuit.
     “The creation of this world-class cultural attraction, with incalculable attendant social and economic benefits, is a matter of enormous importance to the city,” the city’s petition states.
     Chicago claims Friends of the Parks’ complaint will be dismissed for lack of standing — indeed, “it is hard to know where to begin with the defects in this case,” the petition claims.
     But the delay of litigation will cause residents irreparable harm, because Lucas is unwilling to put his project on indefinite hold. He also seems unwilling to consider a non-lakefront location for the museum.
     “Both city and state leaders have done everything possible to bring this important project to fruition,” the city says. “Federal litigation should not be allowed to thwart local land-use decisions through a war of attrition.”
     Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has been an advocate for bringing the museum to his city, used blunt words in a statement regarding the petition.
     “Friends of the Parks’ claims for federal relief are frivolous,” he said. “Due to the extraordinary circumstances here, if immediate review is denied, there will be no litigation to appeal, as the museum will abandon its efforts to locate in Chicago.”
     Experts are widely convinced that the Seventh Circuit will not find the situation urgent enough to intervene in a pre-trial case to dismiss Friends of the Parks’ claims, even if the court agrees with the city on the standing issue.
     If this legal ploy fails, Lucas will have to decide whether to go to another city, choose another site, or wait out a legal battle.
     The city is represented by Christopher Landau with Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C.

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