Evanston residents speak out against hosting professional events at Welsh-Ryan Arena


Jacob Fulton/The Daily Northwestern

Mayor Steve Hagerty. Hagerty spoke to Evanston residents in a town hall on Thursday night.

Jacob Fulton, Reporter

During a town hall event Thursday, Evanston residents voiced opposition to a resolution City Council passed Monday that would allow Northwestern to host professional sporting events and for-profit concerts at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Mayor Steve Hagerty hosted his third town hall of the year at Temperance Beer Co., 2000 Dempster St. During the discussion, residents raised a wide range of concerns from clear sidewalks in the winter to the lack of affordable housing in Evanston.

Residents were especially concerned about the controversial text amendment to Welsh-Ryan Arena’s U2 zoning district that aldermen recently approved. Introduced at the Oct. 29 City Council meeting, the ordinance will allow Northwestern to host six for-profit single-day events, as well as one extended event, which can last for up to seven days. No event can exceed a maximum capacity of 7,000 people.

The amendment passed 5-4 at the Nov. 11 City Council meeting and will be in place for 2020 and 2021 as a trial period. Before the ordinance passed, the University could only hold seven multi-day non-profit events at the arena.

However, residents including Ray Friedman voiced concerns about the impact that the ordinance could have on the community. Friedman said he was frustrated that the city didn’t commission an impact report to look into how the new amendment would affect residents.

“My biggest question is, why wasn’t a study done to show what the impact would be on the surrounding properties around Welsh-Ryan Arena?” Friedman said.

In response, Hagerty said that the city followed the proper protocol required for the change, saying an impact study wasn’t required. Comparing the logistics of a 7,000 person event to a men’s basketball game held at the arena, he said the needs wouldn’t be much different.

Still, some residents felt that their voices weren’t heard in the vote. Evanston resident Clare Kelly said she was dismayed by the outcome, even though the vote was close.

“The vote on the amendment did not represent the people there,” Kelly said. “No (residents) spoke for the project, except for one or two people. But the fact is that they voted against people.”

However, Hagerty said that other residents who didn’t attend the vote expressed their support of the amendment. He said the close vote demonstrated that there was city-wide conflict over the issue.

Evanston resident Jim Young said he chaired a group called Evanstonians for Fun and collected over 125 signatures in favor of the amendment, which he shared with the City Council.

“There are a lot of people in this community who support this amendment,” Young said. “They may not have been there Monday. Some people have other things to do. But the support is there.”

Though many residents expressed concern about the potential impacts of the professional events, Hagerty said he hoped it would be a positive source of revenue for the city. He emphasized the importance of expanding the tax base of the community.

“Taxes are really high, and we can’t continue to have a city where the taxes keep going up. We need to make sure we have economic activity,” Hagerty said. “There are people that want to see if this is successful without overly burdening neighbors, but I’m nervous.”

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