University President Schill, NU administrators discuss Ryan Field redesign at Faculty Senate


Daily file illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Northwestern will contribute $124 million toward the Ryan Field redesign.

Maia Pandey, Print Managing Editor

Senior University administrators delivered updates and fielded questions on Northwestern’s impending redesign of Ryan Field at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

After gaining approval from the Board of Trustees, the University unveiled plans for the stadium’s $800 million renovation last month. The redevelopment is funded in large part by a record-breaking $480 million donation to NU from Pat Ryan (Kellogg ’59) and Shirley Ryan (Weinberg ’61), a portion of which has been allocated to the redesign.

Provost Kathleen Hagerty said the renovation would not impact the University’s budget for academics. NU will invest $124 million in the project, supporting the Ryan family gift, as well as $100 million in additional fundraising and an unspecified amount from the stadium’s current revenue.

Hagerty said before the Ryan family made its gift, the University had already allocated the $124 million for upgrades to the current stadium, including repainting it and repairing its plumbing and electrical systems.

“It was really pretty plain vanilla … maintenance stuff,” Hagerty said. “Even after we had invested the $124 million, we would still be left with a 100-year-old stadium that was going to be a problem to take care of.”

While the redesign plans were all but set when he joined NU last month, University President Michael Schill said he supports the investment — especially because with the Ryan family gift, the University’s investment will yield a new stadium instead of an aging one with minor upgrades.

After visiting many stadiums during his tenure as University of Oregon president, Schill said he felt Ryan Field needed drastic improvements.

“Being president (of Oregon), I went to all the football games away, and ours is worse than any of them,” Schill said. “I’ve never been to a stadium that looks like ours from the inside — maybe the outside is semi-effective.”

While faculty raised concerns about the project running over budget, Schill said he thinks the University should not spend more than the $800 million budget it announced. In case of budget concerns, he said options include obtaining “a bigger gift” from the Ryan family, reducing the scope of the project or ramping up fundraising.

The stadium is slated to open for the 2026 season, though Vice President for Operations Luke Figora said the University does not yet have any updates on where the Wildcats will play during the renovation if construction begins in 2023 as planned. 

Additionally, as NU looks to break ground on the project, residents in the city’s 7th Ward have continued to raise concerns about noise and light pollution, parking shortages and student conduct as a result of stadium activity.

Figora said the University has been working with a 7th Ward working group to solicit feedback on those issues. The new design’s 12,000-seating capacity reduction is one way NU hopes to mitigate residents’ concerns, he added.

“A lot of those (problems) we felt could be solved with a reduction in size as well — things like parking, congestion, noise and lights,” Figora said. “This is a trend we’re seeing … reducing stadium size across the professional sports and collegiate sports as well.”

While the University hopes to make the stadium financially sustainable in the long run, Figora said it is also working toward pricing the new stadium tickets, so the space remains as accessible as possible.

Several faculty asked why NU has not more seriously considered Soldier Field, a multi-purpose stadium about 15 miles from the Evanston campus, as a viable option for Wildcat football. 

Building a venue outside of Evanston was “not on the table,” Schill said, especially because having an on-campus stadium is largely a standard among the Power Five conferences, including the Big Ten. A stadium in close proximity also encourages students and alumni alike to engage more with the team and University, he said.

“That’s one of the reasons why we have football in the first place,” Schill said, “We want to encourage school spirit, we want to encourage our alumni to come back … there is a benefit to the campus, to the University from having the stadium here.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maiapandey

Related Stories:

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

Football: New Ryan Field designs look to reduced capacity, state-of-the-art canopy to enhance gameday atmosphere

Faculty Senate takes nominations for President-Elect, addresses staffing shortages