Lucas, Hobson, and Emanuel blew museum deal by ignoring the little people

Mellody Hobson, Star Wars Museum
Mellody Hobson, Chicago native and wife of George Lucas

The fiasco that was to be a Star Wars-themed museum nestling Lake Michigan demonstrated a little discussed fact – the uber rich don’t think like the rest of us.

When George Lucas, creator of Star Wars and his Chicago-bred wife initially proposed the 300,0000 square foot edifice approximately two years ago they sought the blessings of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, which turned out to be mistake number one.

Of course there was no doubt the mayor could put the proper spin on why the museum was the best thing to come to Chicago since Lake Shore Drive, and that he knew what numbers to toss regarding how many jobs would be created. He and his predecessor Mayor Richard M. Daley had gone through this drill countless times.

However, long before preservationists and Friends of the Park turned thumbs down on the lakefront locations, Mr. Emanuel’s hubris killed the deal. Had the second-term mayor told  Mr. Lucas and Ms. Hobson he wanted to check with his constituents first; we might be talking groundbreaking, instead of the project looking for another city. The mayor assumed because he gave the deal the green light there was nothing to which to object. Oh was he wrong.

The certainty of the museum bore a familiar smell of Chicago having a lock on the 2016 Olympics. We all remember how that went, promises of jobs, land acquisition, major investments in Chicago. So the Star Wars museum smelled like de ja vu Had the mayor accepted that, along with the fact lots of people had a sour taste from the Olympics, he would have known his Star Wars edict wasn’t sufficient.

Mr. Emanuel should have advised Ms. Hobson and Mr. Lucas to shy away from the rich and powerful for a minute and venture out into the land of the little people. They should have hosted receptions at the South Shore Cultural Center, town hall meetings on the West Side at St. Mel-Providence, Franklin Park Fieldhouse; go back “out south” to the Harold Washington Center and the Kroc Center. Every place people were talking about how Chicago was hoodwinked by Mr. Daley and the Olympics the Star Wars team should have been there, explaining how their project would be vastly different, specifically what jobs would be created and how long they would last.

They chose to rely on a mayor who was already wounded from having to be in a runoff election for the first time in decades. They chose to tell the citizens how good it would be for them rather than ask any everyday people what would be good for them. The community benefits of this billion-dollar project just weren’t evident or articulated from day one. Couple that with the reality that credibility is not one of the incumbent mayor’s strong suits, and it is impossible to see how the museum was ever going to become a reality.

Skywalker Ranch
The 50,000-square-foot California facility houses George Lucas’ offices.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Star Wars Museum
The mayor’s lack of attention to constituents helped chase the Museum deal out of town.

Everyone associated from the early stages with the idea of the lakefront museum underestimated the value of a buy-in from the general public. Citizen input could have helped fine-tune all of the parameters of the project and possibly grease the skids for the facility going in Lucas’ preferred location.

Emanuel, more so than the city, has suffered a loss here. The mayor has been short on successes he can point to. Those are critical if he chooses to pursue a third. term. All indicators are he will despite the close race with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia last year.

During his re-election bid, the mayor made a commercial that offered “maybe I talked when I should have been listening.” The Star Wars Museum project was definitely one of those times. He not only didn’t listen, he refused to ask.

After learning the Friends of the Park, a non-profit organization deemed the stewards of the parks and other public spaces, Ms. Hobson blasted the organization and pointed to two years of hard work now being wasted because of the Friends.  In what amounted to a tirade

Melody Hobson shares outrage, the St. Ignatius College Prep grad fell short in explaining exactly how her project was uplifting to the city’s African-American and Latino children.  Had the incumbent and the billionaires gone to the people first with answers to most conceivable questions, and an adaptive mindset, the chances are much better the museum would be well on its way.