City Council votes to introduce ordinance for Northwestern to host professional events


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily Senior Staffer

Dave Davis at Monday’s Planning and Development Committee meeting. Davis and his fellow Northwestern representative were given 10 minutes to make a presentation to the committee.

Sam Heller, Reporter

Evanston City Council voted on Monday to introduce a controversial proposed ordinance to allow for professional sporting and other for-profit events to take place in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The vote came after the Planning and Development Committee passed the ordinance for council introduction earlier in the evening. The ordinance, passed in committee 6-3, would amend the U2 zoning district to allow for Northwestern to host 13 for-profit events at the arena, with a max capacity of 7,000 people a year. This would see a large increase from the seven annual non-profit events currently allowed by the law.

Residents within U2 zoning districts have voiced their concern with the plans, with more than 700 members signing a petition to vote down the amendment. During the meeting, Evanston residents also had two experts speak on their behalf to give a presentation: economic consultant Tim Guidmond and Appraisal Institute member Howard Richter.

Northwestern representatives, including Neighborhood and Community Relations Director Dave Davis, followed the residents’ presentation with their own. The Northwestern representatives spoke for 10 minutes, while Evanston residents and their presenters were allotted just five minutes to speak.

Over a dozen residents also spoke out against the amendment during the meeting, citing issues with how the amendment would negatively affect housing value, commercial activity and parking availability near the area.

Many business owners in the area have addressed concern that their business decreases greatly during football games.

“Many businesses in the Central Street area are deserted on large event days,” said resident Judy Berg. “While we all want to support our local businesses, these days many of us choose to dine and shop in Wilmette.”

Around 60 businesses on Central Street have signed a petition stating that they believe this amendment will hurt their businesses.

While the Northwestern representatives did not address this issue, the executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Roger Sosa, spoke in favor of the amendment. Sosa stated that studies have found that those who attend these events spend around $30 per person on Evanston businesses.

The other problem raised by residents was that the proximity to Welsh-Ryan will decrease their property value. Sosa refuted this, although Richter vehemently disagreed with him.

“To even suggestions that the number of events being held has no impact on home values is on its face impossible,” Richter said.

Lastly, many residents expressed concern that there would be no street parking near their homes. However, Davis addressed this issue by stating they would provide 1,500 free parking spaces to event attendees in the U2 district, as well as 200 more complementary spots on campus with free shuttles to Welsh-Ryan.

While most of the alderman remained skeptical of the plan, those that voted in favor at the Planning and Development committee pointed to the fact that the amendment would expire in 2021, and there was little risk in testing it for two years.

Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th), who voted against the amendment, pointed out the danger in this thought process.

“While it is valid it is only two years, it is two years of their lives we are playing with,” he said.

Other aldermen who voted in favor of the ordinance argued people were drawing a false equivalency between football games in Ryan Field, which houses 47,130 people, and the proposed events.

“We aren’t talking about some giant place, we are talking about something pretty small,” said Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who voted in favor of the ordinance.

After Rainey finished speaking, though, many residents called out asking her to address “precedent.” They were looking for her to address the history of this amendment, which stretches all the way back to the 1950s.

Since then, Northwestern has continually attempted to amended the U2 zoning district and each time has been denied. Most recently, in 1996, the University was denied the ability to host a seven-day professional tennis event.

“Nothing has changed since the last time Northwestern tried to do this,” Evanston resident Stuart Gottesman said during the meeting. “Every time before this the city council has said it is going to try and protect the neighbor and its neighborhood.”

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