Fundraising passes $55 million for new athletic complex

Joseph Diebold, Web Editor

Northwestern is already more than a quarter of the way to its $220 million fundraising goal for a new lakeside athletic complex on North Campus, the University announced Sunday.

University President Morton Schapiro and Jim Phillips, vice president for athletics and recreation, formally announced the series of donations totaling more than $55 million at Monday’s University-sponsored pep rally in Jacksonville, Fla., in advance of Tuesday’s Gator Bowl. The Wildcats’ 34-20 victory over Mississippi State, their first bowl win in 64 years, could lead to a further influx of contributions to the Athletic Department.

Schapiro told The Daily last month he was confident enough in the University’s fundraising ability that the financial benefits of adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten did not play much of a role in his decision to vote to allow the two universities’ entrance.

“The vast majority of schools take money from academics to subsidize athletics,” he said. “We’re one of the very few schools that basically breaks even.”

Schapiro did say that the additional Big Ten revenue “is going to help fund a $220 million investment in athletics and recreation.”

The arena in the new complex will be named Ryan Fieldhouse, commemorating the lead gift from Patrick Ryan (Weinberg ’59) , a former chair and current member of NU’s Board of Trustees, and his wife Shirley Welsh Ryan (Weinberg ’61),  according to a University news release. The area inside the fieldhouse will be called Wilson Field in honor of a “significant” contribution from Stephen Wilson (Weinberg ’70, Kellogg ’74) and his wife Susan Wilson (Medill ’70). 

“Our teams’ and coaches’ passion and commitment to excellence is apparent to all,” Patrick Ryan said in the release. “Shirley and I are excited to enable such excellence with state-of-the-art facilities that will play a crucial role in both recruiting and training Northwestern’s student-athletes and bring together the campus community for recreational activities.”

This marks the latest in a long history of donations from the Ryans to the University. Athletic facilities Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena both bear their names, as does Ryan Hall. They have also contributed to the construction of NU’s Nanotechnology Center and the Feinberg School of Medicine as well as to scholarships for both athletes and low-income students, according to the release.

Athletic department spokesman Paul Kennedy said the timetable for the project is dependent on the rest of the fundraising but is going faster than anticipated.

“This would have been our most optimistic projection and we’ve been very fortunate to have these people come through with these major gifts,” Kennedy said. “When it was announced three months ago that the plans had been approved, if you had said right there that we’d have $55 million in hand by New Year’s Day, I don’t think many people would have believed you.”

The release notes the unexpectedly quick fundraising has allowed the University to begin a design competition for the complex among “a group of architectural firms with substantial accomplishments in designing collegiate sports and recreational facilities” that will be concluded by this summer. Kennedy said the new facility, to be constructed on the shore of Lake Michigan on North Campus, will benefit the entire University community, not just the athletic programs.

“The point of this is that it’s really going to touch everybody,” he said. “Northwestern as a campus does not really have a central gathering place that can hold a large portion of the university community.”

He said the biggest athletic impact would come in recruiting, noting specifically the lagging quality of NU’s current facilities — many of which are about a mile off campus — compared to the University’s Big Ten competition.

The new facility was announced in September. It will feature new practice and competition venues for varsity, club and intramural sports, as well as spaces for non-athletic events, including University convocation and Dance Marathon, and a new 1,200-car parking garage.