Artist's rendering of proposed Lucas Cultural Arts Museum in San Francisco's Presidio. The body governing the former Army base has rejected the museum and two other proposals. (Lucas Cultural Art Museum presentation, January 2014)
Artist’s rendering of proposed Lucas Cultural Arts Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio. The body governing the former Army base has rejected the museum and two other proposals. (Lucas Cultural Art Museum presentation, January 2014)

You might forgive George Lucas if right now he’s wondering, “What does a guy have to do to get something built around here?”

A couple years ago, his neighbors in Marin County made it clear they didn’t want his big new movie studio. And Monday, the group that oversees development of San Francisco’s historic former Army base, the Presidio, very politely said “no thanks” to the filmmaker’s bid to erect a new museum to house what, by all accounts, is an epic collection of  popular art celebrating the history of visual storytelling — including comics, children’s books, cinema, digital technology and illustrations of artists such as Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish.

The Presidio Trust also turned down two other finalists in the marathon bidding process to build a new cultural center at mid-Crissy Field, now the site of a former Army commissary that currently houses a hip but culturally unprepossessing branch of fitness retailer Sports Basement. The two other proposals, the Presidio Exchange and the Bridge/Sustainability Institute, focused on environment, local history and cultural education.

The Trust’s public explanation for turning down all three proposals? As Presidio Trust officials put it in a statement, “We simply do not believe any of the projects were right for this location.” The Trust suggested it wants to reserve the Sports Basement property as open space as Doyle Drive, the elevated freeway leading to the Golden Gate Bridge, gives way to the less obtrusive Presidio Parkway.

Lucas had reportedly planned to spend $250 million to $300 million to build his new museum and grant the institution $800 million in endowments. The Presidio Trust said it would like to continue discussions with Lucas in hopes of finding a site for the museum elsewhere in the 1,500-acre Presidio, which is part of the National Park Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

But in a statement, Lucas seemed cool to the idea of looking for an alternative Presidio location. And the San Francisco Chronicle’s Phil Matier and Andy Ross reported Monday that a Lucas spokesman seemed taken aback by the Presidio Trust’s decision and offer to look for another site:

“This is something that caught us completely by surprise,” David Perry, spokesman for Lucas, said of the latest offer for another site, at an undisclosed location closer to the Main Post.

“For four years, we have been told that the only site available for development is the Sports Basement site — and we have worked and reworked our plan to make it work,” Perry said. “Now, literally in the past few hours, we hear there is an alternative site.

“We are intrigued,” Perry said, but “a lot of other people have asked us to dance, and we will start calling them back.”

Perry apparently was referring, in particular, to an offer to Lucas to build his museum in Chicago, where the director’s new wife lives.

Perry ruled out one site that others have suggested, at the Palace of Fine Arts, saying the Lucas team had examined the property and concluded it wouldn’t work.

The Presidio development marks the second major reversal for Lucas in his attempts to get ambitious, signature projects built in the Bay Area. In April 2012, he withdrew a proposal for a major new movie production complex on his Grady Ranch property in Marin County’s Lucas Valley. That decision came after protracted battles with neighbors who sought to block the project. Lucas said he would try to develop the site for low-income and affordable housing instead, but so far he has not found a developer to partner with on the project.

  • ADWheeler

    We have a large un-used base here in the beautiful Finger lakes region of NY, we would love to have your George!!

  • John Dunlap

    Consider the abandoned power plant on the waterfront near 20th and Illinois Streets in the Dog Patch.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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