NU pushes for Ryan Field renovation, 7th Ward neighbors criticize expected repercussions


Daily file photo by Seeger Gray

Former quarterback Lloyd Yates is the first player to attach his name to a lawsuit against Northwestern University.

Emily Lichty, Assistant Illustrations Editor

Northwestern announced plans Sept. 28 for a complete renovation of Ryan Field. The school would revamp the stadium, limiting seat capacity but adding concerts and alcohol sales.

But for residents of the 7th Ward, where Ryan Field is located, the renovation raises a number of concerns: noise and traffic during summer concerts, limited parking capacity, safety risks surrounding alcohol sales and tensions around NU’s relationship with Evanston.

The University must now apply for several permits from the city for the rebuild, concerts and alcohol sales. City Council will issue or deny final approval.

So the Most Livable City Association — a group of Evanston residents focused on raising awareness around issues presented by the Ryan Field rebuild — released a petition asking the city to limit events at the field and for an independent study of the stadium’s expected impact on nearby residents and businesses. It’s reached nearly 700 signatures so far. 

As debates around the stadium continue, Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she sees this discussion as a chapter in a longer discussion about the town-gown relationship. 

“There’s definitely a lot of talk about a general feeling in the community, whether you’re talking about the stadium or not, that Northwestern could and should do more for the community,” Revelle told The Daily. “So this concert stadium proposal seems to be an opportunity to have conversations with the University about what we’re going to do.”

Stadium rebuild sparks tensions

The University’s proposal includes the addition of 10 concerts a year at the renovated Ryan Field, which has prompted concerns about noise and traffic.

The school responded to earlier concerns about noise and traffic by reducing the capacity in the stadium by 15,000 seats, adding noise and visual controls and conducting a “comprehensive parking plan.”

However, Aaron Cohen, a member of the Most Livable City Association and 40-year resident of Evanston, said he’s still worried concertgoers will park on the street. According to a zoning analysis application by the City of Evanston, a minimum of 4,202 parking spaces are required for Ryan Field and Welsh-Ryan Arena, but only 1,365 have been proposed.

Cohen also expressed reservations about where the Ryan Field changes fit in with the University’s educational mission.

“Why does the University need to sell alcohol?” he said. “Why does it need the whole concert with 35,000 people as if it were a major entertainment venue?” 

As an educational institution with nonprofit status, the University does not pay property taxes — nor does it make payments in lieu of taxes, as some universities do. It has, however, contributed to the Good Neighbor Fund, which has granted $1 million annually to the city since 2015.

But, similar to Cohen, resident and petitioner Andrew Berman said the planned concerts at NU seem intended to draw in profit.

“It’s the audacity of trying to run a for-profit business when you’re technically a not for-profit institution,” Berman said. “You don’t pay taxes on the building and property that you’re running the business on. That really grates on me.”

Nevertheless, the University does pay a variety of local, state and federal taxes.

A study by consulting firm Tripp Umbach predicted the stadium construction will bring billions to Evanston, and special events will continue providing revenue for the city. The study also said the University’s direct and indirect tax revenue to the city will likely increase to more than $5 million annually by 2031. 

NU Assistant Vice President of Communications Jon Yates said introducing concerts would make the construction of the stadium more worthwhile. 

He also said a nonprofit organization, such as NU, may perform activities like concerts that are secondary to, but still in support of, its core mission. 

“It’s important that this magnitude of an investment in a facility be sustainable in the long-run — both from an environmental perspective and a financial perspective,” Yates said in an email to The Daily.

Impact on local businesses 

According to Yates, the rebuild will create nearly 3,000 jobs in the region, with a target of 35% dedicated to minority- and women-owned businesses. He said the school will give priority to Evanston businesses and individuals. 

Samuel Lica, the manager of Central St. restaurant Mustard’s Last Stand, said the new stadium will likely bring in more profits. 

“While the stadium is built, from Mustard’s point of view, it will benefit the business because it will generate a lot of construction, as all of the workers that are a part of that construction will come here,” Lica said. 

However, business owner Kandi Corbbins said increased traffic might not bring her targeted clientele to the area.

The owner of hair salon iKandi, Corbbins said she already sees customers avoiding the area on game days because of increased congestion. 

“I’m hopeful that we will find a way in order to make it to our advantage, but I find it a struggle for businesses like mine to survive over here, especially minority businesses,” she said. “I don’t know that (the stadium) is going to bring the people that we need to make this business thrive.”

Community collaboration

Revelle said she’s working with NU representatives to address community concerns. She’s also held three special 7th Ward meetings for Evanston residents to discuss their concerns surrounding Ryan Field, with meetings centering around the renovation process, the Tripp Umbach economic report and gameday parking and traffic management. 

Revelle’s fourth special topic meeting, scheduled for Feb. 8, will be centered around alcohol sales at the new facility. 

“Since I don’t know whether my council colleagues are going to approve concerts or not, I’m trying to put in place some strategies to address some of the neighbors’ concerns,” Revelle said.

Fiona McCarthy, a member of the Most Livable City Association, said she hopes the city and the University will find a way to address neighbors’ worries and make the stadium renovation work for both parties. 

“These concerns are real,” McCarthy said. “I really hope that the city does their due diligence to address them, and I hope that they can find a way to work with the neighbors and Northwestern.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @emilymlichty

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