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San Francisco vies with Chicago for George Lucas's new museum

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Will the force be with San Francisco or Chicago? George Lucas wants to build a museum for his $1 billion collection of Americana art and Hollywood memorabilia and the competition is hot. San Francisco is vying with Chicago to host the museum after the Presidio Trust tabled competing proposals for museums at the current site of the Sports Basement sporting goods store. This week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel revealed his city's potential site for a museum to house Lucas' s collection: a waterfront parcel just south of Soldier Field football stadium.

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The museum, with an initial estimated cost of $300 million, would house Lucas’s assemblage of art and design, from 20th century illustrations by Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish, to the senate gown of Queen Amidala and Darth Vader’s costume in “Star Wars,” according to Lucas’s website.

But San Francisco's Mayor Edwin Lee is not giving up and stepped in with a new proposal. In a letter last Thursday, May 29, to the filmmaker, he offered to sell or lease a city parking lot near the Bay Bridge as the site for a Lucas museum. Lee was about as ebullient as one can get on paper, writing, “We are committed to being your partner through every step of the process, from environmental review to construction to opening day.” Lee even crossed out “Mr. Lucas” at the top of the letter and wrote “George,” and included a personal handwritten postscript at the bottom reading: “George, Thank you for your utmost consideration. You know we enthusiastically support your project and our history! EL."

Lee also noted that Piers 30-32 across the street from the proposed site, known as Seawall Lot 330, could be incorporated as a “complementary new waterfront educational and public open space.” The Port of San Francisco owns the empty lot, appraised two years ago at $30 million, and would lease or sell it outright to Lucas.

“It was to make sure he knows the mayor was personally involved in every step of the way on this proposal,” said Lee’s spokeswoman, Christine Falvey. “It’s a healthy competition,” Tony Winnicker, senior adviser to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, said by telephone to Blomberg. “It’s hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment to build a public museum, cultural center and education center. Those don’t come along very often, and when they do, you’ve got to put up every effort to keep it in your city.”

Lucas, 70, has strong ties to northern California. He was born in Modesto, about 80 miles east of San Francisco, the setting for his first hit, the 1973 film, “American Graffiti,” which he co-wrote and directed. Lucasfilm’s visual effects division, Industrial Light & Magic, is based in the Presidio, marked by a fountain topped by a statue of Yoda from “Star Wars.” Across the Golden Gate Bridge, in Marin County, is Skywalker Ranch, the headquarters for Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound, which produces sound effects and music not only for Lucas but for other filmmakers.

At the same time that Mayor Lee offers Lucas a sweet deal on waterfront property, another one of San Francisco’s art galleries is going under. ArtZone 461 on Valencia St – the heart of techie land and one would have hoped, money to burn – will be closing at the end of the month. They had hoped to raise money through a Kickstarteer Campaign but were unsuccessful. Owners Steve Lopez and Eric Kohler wrote, “Our current shows for Heidi McDowell and Adam Cahoon will be our last. If you haven’t already seen the shows we hope you’ll be able to visit before the shows close on Sun Jun 15."

Would Yoda approve?

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