Two years ago, it was widely reported that negotiations had fallen apart over a potential site in San Francisco for a museum to house filmmaker George Lucas’ personal collection of art and memorabilia. At that time, I tried to muster up some enthusiasm for a bid to house it in Sacramento, but the conversation had been all Kings, all the time, for so long that it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room.
Now the same news is being reported with respect to Chicago, apparently following complaints about the proposed design, and Lucas is said to be looking back toward his home state of California. In the intervening years, conversations in Sacramento have moved on to the Railyards, a soccer stadium, a rugby stadium and various arts venues, including a replaced or revamped Community Center Theater. But let’s ponder for a moment why this might be the right time to consider Sacramento as a home for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
1. George Lucas was born and raised in Modesto in California’s Central Valley. He went to school there, started college there and his film American Graffiti was largely inspired by his hometown and his early love of cars and racing. Since then, he’s made Marin County his home, at Skywalker Ranch and, as it happens, Sacramento is neatly equidistant between the two.
2. After great foresight in negotiating the merchandising and sequel rights to the Star Wars franchise, and the later sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, Lucas is not short of funds. He may not have quite the wealth of, say, a Galactic Empire but he could probably outspend the Rebel Alliance. When Lucas picks a site for his museum, he may look for a sweet deal on land (he was reportedly offered a $1 annual land lease in Chicago) but he’s not likely to need Kings-sized public subsidies on the facility itself. He has promised to invest $1 billion into the project. And who knows, he may even be open to helping out a host city with funding for other facilities. Along with fellow billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, he has pledged to give away half of his wealth to charitable causes. Additionally, the museum is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs and more than 350 permanent jobs.
3. Indeed, Lucas has already made numerous large gifts to other arts and educational projects, including perhaps the largest gift ever to the University of Southern California’s film school. And he appears to be targeting projects that will be noticed and make a difference. So why build a museum in a city like San Francisco or Chicago, or for that matter in Los Angeles, which has also courted his project, all places that are already well established on the worldwide tourism map, when you could have a more transformative effect on a smaller city like Sacramento? Of course, the same might be said to an even greater extent for Modesto, but Sacramento has the advantage of being a greater transportation hub, with intersecting interstate highways, a major Amtrak station supporting travel from the Bay Area and elsewhere, and the well-serviced Sacramento International Airport.
4. Lucas’ art collection is rumored to be worth upward of $1 billion and if he builds a museum that also houses artwork and memorabilia from his films, most notably the first six Star Wars episodes, it will become a place of pilgrimage for fans from around the world. It has the potential to be our own Field of Dreams, with an if you build it, they will come ability to draw visitors. And sites such as that are less sensitive to location. Again, it doesn’t need to be nestled among other major museums in a city so large that the facilities cannibalize each other’s markets. The Warner Brothers/Harry Potter studio tour in London is actually so far outside the central city that most tourists and visitors who aren’t driving themselves there (and it’s not the easiest place to find if you do — I got lost) are likely to take a combination of subway, train and shuttle bus to reach a destination that’s still so popular you need an advance reservation to get in.
5. We have space both inside and outside “the grid” to house this museum. This project could energize almost any area or neighborhood in need of a catalyst. At times, development discussions make it sound like Sacramento has only one district: the grid. A recent report for the City Council, on potential sites for a new Community Center Theater looked only at the grid, despite both the Mondavi Center in Davis and the Harris Center in Folsom ably demonstrating our willingness to travel to worthwhile events. Meanwhile, people have been driving out to Natomas and Wheatland for concerts for years. Additionally, a museum of this nature is an attraction every day of the year. We have vacant property in the Railyards, along Richards Boulevard and on Del Paso Boulevard all serviced by light rail or existing public transportation links. We also have a huge arena-sized hole in the middle of Natomas and long-discussed plans for a northern extension of light rail toward the airport. Regional Transit has been discussing ways to expand ridership and services and a world-famous facility of this kind could be a great way.
Last but not least: It would be ridiculously cool to have George Lucas in town and for Sacramento to be associated with the Star Wars universe.