Ryan Revamp: Northwestern announces plans for design of new Ryan Field


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

If approved, construction on the new Ryan Field would begin after the 2023 football season.

Jacob Fulton, Editor in Chief

Nearly a century after first opening to the public, Ryan Field is gearing up for a major facelift. 

Northwestern announced plans Wednesday for a new football stadium, after facility namesakes Pat Ryan (Kellogg ’59) and Shirley Ryan (Weinberg ’61) announced a record-breaking $480 million donation to the University in September 2021 that included funds earmarked for the renovation. NU’s Board of Trustees approved the design last week, which is reported to cost around $800 million.

The privately-funded facility has a projected maximum capacity of 35,000 — 12,000 seats fewer than the current stadium — which ensures it will remain the smallest stadium in the Big Ten. If approved, construction would begin after the 2023 football season, with the facility slated to open in time for the 2026 season.

“I am excited about this project, which will create a world-class new stadium that is befitting our world-class institution, our amazing student-athletes, our fans, our alumni and the Evanston community,” University President Michael Schill said in a Wednesday news release. “I appreciate all the work my predecessor and the leadership team at the University have done to actively listen and solicit input from the community.” 

The field, which first opened in 1926 as Dyche Stadium, has been through multiple rounds of renovations since its inception and was renamed in 1996 after the Ryan family. Located in northern Evanston, the stadium sits next to Welsh-Ryan Arena in the city’s 7th Ward, where NU’s footprint has been a point of contention for years. 

Nearby residents have raised concerns about issues including noise and light pollution, student conduct, parking availability and transit, with some feeling the presence of both Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena has negatively impacted their quality of life. Chief among those concerns is the hosting of for-profit events such as concerts and professional conferences. 

A divided City Council narrowly passed a zoning change in November 2019 that allowed NU to host a limited number of these for-profit events in the Welsh-Ryan area over a period of two years. Pitched as a trial program to assess the impact of these events on the community, the plan was upended when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down large-scale events across the country just months after the change went into effect. 

However, the proposal faced fierce resident opposition both before and after its passage. As the pilot program’s end date neared in 2021, City Council considered a yearlong extension to the zoning change, but the proposal was shot down that June. 

To ensure the stadium remains funded, NU is considering holding some concerts at the new Ryan Field, though no annual number of events has been officially proposed. To address resident concerns, University leaders have held conversations with community members since the renovation was announced, some of which were formally facilitated by Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th). 

The reduction in stadium capacity, stadium design elements meant to decrease light pollution and plans for increased game day transit options are all intended to address worries about the facility. 

NU also projected that the construction process will create more than 2,900 jobs and generate more than $10 million in direct revenue for the city. If the University ends up hosting concerts at the new Ryan Field, it would also bring in a projected $35 million in city tax revenue over the course of a decade. 

Discussions about the proposed plans are ongoing, as City Council has yet to approve the project. In the meantime, the University plans to continue conversations about the renovations and their impact on residents. 

Looking forward, namesake donor Pat Ryan said he hopes the new facility will benefit both NU and the broader Evanston community. 

“The new Ryan Field will be more than just an amazing home for Wildcat football,” Pat Ryan said in the release. “Our hope is that through this new stadium campus, Ryan Field is reimagined as an architecturally significant year-round gathering place for the Northwestern and Evanston communities that is accessible to all.”

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Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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