City Council passes ordinance allowing Northwestern to host professional events


Noah Frick-Alofs/Daily senior staffer

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th). Revelle said she didn’t believe Northwestern has met the standards necessary to hold for-profit events.

Sam Heller, Reporter

Northwestern will now be allowed to host professional sporting events and for-profit concerts at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

The controversial text amendment passed 5-4 at Monday’s City Council meeting, while dozens of community members filled the chamber asking the members to vote no.

This amendment to the U2 zoning district allows for six single-day events and one multi-day event, not to exceed seven days, with a capacity of 7,000 people. The pilot will last for two years, expiring in 2021. Previously, Northwestern could hold seven multi-day non-profit events in Welsh-Ryan under the law.

When the text amendment passed for introduction two weeks ago, many residents took issue with how the new law would negatively affect their home values, local businesses and parking availability. On Monday, around 30 residents said Northwestern had not met the “burden of proof” in the rules and standards that it will not harm the surrounding community.

“The relevant currency here is whether the zoning amendment meets Evanston’s standards and whether the application has met its burden of proof,” resident Ken Proskie said.

In order to change the zoning amendment, Northwestern must prove that the proposal will not alter the character of the neighborhood. The arena must also have no adverse effect on adjacent properties.

Many practicing lawyers said Northwestern fails to meet these standards. One of Northwestern’s errors, made in a presentation during the Planning and Development meeting on Oct. 28, was that the university claimed there were about 150 more parking spaces for event attendees than they could provide.

Northwestern graduate student William Siroky also pointed out in public comment that the University’s claimed these events would bring revenue to surrounding businesses, but their data was flawed.

Residents also expressed concerns that the proposed change should have been a mapping issue rather than a zoning issue, which would have required a supermajority vote. However, when aldermen discussed this problem, they explained how a mapping issue would be actually changing the U2 zone itself.

The only people to speak in favor of the amendment at the meeting were two representatives from Northwestern.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) urged council to vote against the amendment. She said Northwestern also did not attempt to prove that the proposal is compatible with the overall character of the neighborhood and left their answer to this criteria blank on the proposal form.

“Simply stating the standards have been met does not make it so,” Revelle said. “I do not believe we have the evidence in hand to say yes.”

While five councilmen voted for the amendment, only Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) spoke in favor of it. Wilson, Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) and Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) voted in favor, while Revelle, Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th), Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) and Ald. Thomas Suffredin (6th) voted against the amendment.

Wilson said that while he understood the people’s complaints, Northwestern would actually be decreasing its total number of events at Welsh Ryan —the only change is that it can now make a profit.

“I have considered these concerns, but at the end of the day you are getting a less intensive use of the stadium that seems to address the concerns I have been hearing from people,” Wilson said

Revelle responded to Wilson by pointing out that Northwestern only ever hosts three events a year and they all are far below capacity.

During the Planning and Development committee two weeks ago, other aldermen who voted in favor of the amendment also cited to the fact that this would only be a two year pilot. Rainey who voted in favor, said at the committee meeting that many residents were falsely equating these events and their possible impacts with the issues associated with football games, such as tailgates, disorderly conduct and traffic. Football games can host around 50,000 people, whereas future events would host up to 7,000.

The amendment also goes against 60 years of precedence, as Northwestern has applied to host professional events multiple times since the 1950s and been denied. Most recently, in 1996, City Council voted against a seven-day professional tennis event at Welsh-Ryan.

“I have lived with Northwestern trying to get their cake and eat it too for 60 years,” said resident Bruce Enenbach. “They have properly failed in their efforts in the past and after all of this here they are again trying to change our ordinances.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @samheller5

City Council votes to introduce ordinance for Northwestern to host professional events
Residents voice opposition to professional sporting, commercial events at Welsh-Ryan Arena