‘Respect Evanston’: Community members express distrust in NU’s Ryan Field rebuild at town hall


William Tong/The Daily Northwestern

Left to right: Lesley Williams, Emilie Lozier, Dave Ellis, Kevin Brown, David DeCarlo. Panelists spoke about how their experiences with Northwestern has diminished their trust in the University and its plans for rebuilding Ryan Field.

William Tong and Zhizhong Xu

Community members aired concerns about Northwestern’s proposed Ryan Field rebuild during a Sunday town hall at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. The event was hosted by Community Alliance for Better Government, Most Livable City Association, Central Street Neighbors Association and Northwestern University Graduate Workers. 

Panelists representing four community organizations — CABG, Most Livable City, NUGW and Fair Share Action Committee of Evanston — said NU has not adequately considered the city’s needs while planning the Ryan Field project. They also answered questions from the town hall’s more than 100 attendees.

The University announced plans to renovate Ryan Field following a $480 million donation from the Patrick and Shirley Ryan Family last September. The changes would downsize seat capacity but add concerts and alcohol sales. For the plan to move forward, City Council would need to approve changes to the stadium’s current zoning uses. 

City Council is planning to look for contractors to perform an independent study about Ryan Field’s economic, environmental and living condition impacts after it elected not to use Hunden Strategic Partners’ services. The search comes after some community members expressed doubt about the accuracy of a study from Impact Research showing more than half of Evanston residents support the project. 

Each panelist said the University has violated trust with the Evanston community in the past, which informs how the panelists view the rebuild. 

Fair Share former co-Chairman David Ellis said NU doesn’t compensate the city for fire department and other emergency services it uses because it doesn’t pay local property taxes. The University paid an annual $1 million to support the city through the Good Neighbor Fund between 2015 and 2021. NU President Michael Schill has expressed interest in continuing this partnership. 

The University has also historically failed to support people of color, according to Kevin Brown (Weinberg ’85), a CABG board member.

For example, Brown said he reached out to University officials in 2015 to discuss resolving structural problems at the Family Focus building on Dewey Avenue, which primarily serves young people of color. His request was turned down, he said.

He also said he thinks the University has been trying to pit the Black community against 7th Ward residents in Evanston by marketing the rebuild as beneficial for the Black community. 

“Marshaling Black ministers … to attempt to promote this narrative that this (project) is somehow going to save Black Evanston is really disingenuous,” Brown said. “It’s really kind of disgusting.”

The panelists emphasized the importance of obtaining a written community benefit agreement from NU guaranteeing the project would focus on contracting local businesses, use fair labor practices and minimize traffic, noise and pollution impacts to surrounding neighborhoods. 

To negotiate such an agreement, panelist and NUGW co-Chair Emilie Lozier said community members need to create a coalition to pressure the University and City Council. 

“Our recent campaign and election win this winter are through organized collective action,” Lozier said. “We can make Northwestern say yes to things that it doesn’t necessarily want to say yes to.”

David DeCarlo, who represented Most Liveable City, said community coalitions should ask City Council to demand more monetary contributions from the University before approving the rebuilding of Ryan Field.

In general, panelists said they want the councilmembers to be more vocal in holding the University accountable for the rebuild’s potential impact on affordability and residential life. 

“I don’t think we’re seeing any leadership from the mayor,” Brown said. 

Two councilmembers, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) and Ald. Krissie Harris (2nd) attended the meeting. Darlene Cannon and Kathy Hayes, who are running for 2nd and 9th Ward councilmember respectively, also attended. 

Kelly said the event informed her on how residents want City Council to act. 

“This is what Evanston is made of — people who roll up their sleeves, put in the hard work so we make decisions based on community needs and interests,” Kelly said. 

Moving forward, panel moderator and CABG President Lesley Williams said advocacy groups will contact individual councilmembers with their concerns and demands around Ryan Field. 

“We hope they understand how passionate people are about the project and the need for them to negotiate aggressively with Northwestern,” Williams said. “It’s simple. Respect Evanston.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated whether the Good Neighbor Fund continued past 2021, as well as what David DeCarlo wants city coalitions to ask City Council to do. The Daily regrets the errors.

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Twitter: @zhizhong_xu

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