University-City Committee attendees walk out of meeting after NU officials decline to discuss Rebuild Ryan Field


William Tong/Daily Senior Staffer

Most attendees at Wednesday’s Northwestern University-City Committee meeting walked out after University officials repeatedly said the meeting was not an appropriate place to discuss Rebuild Ryan Field.

William Tong, Staff Editor

About 40 residents and Northwestern students — out of almost 50 attendees total — walked out of the Northwestern University-City Committee meeting Wednesday night after NU representatives repeatedly said they could not comment on the Rebuild Ryan Field project. 

Several attendees asked University representatives to answer a question The Daily posed about what actions NU would take if it is unable to obtain licenses and permits for the project. However, committee members representing the University declined to answer because they said the court order that established the committee prevented discussion about Ryan Field. 

Though the order — a 2004 consent decree — does not mention the zoning district where Ryan Field sits, it encourages discussion on the areas serving as buffer zones adjacent to the stadium and NU’s Evanston Campus. 

The University announced plans for rebuilding Ryan Field last September, following a $480 million donation from the Patrick and Shirley Ryan family in 2021. NU is looking to obtain a planned development for construction, a liquor license and a zoning text amendment to allow full-capacity concerts. 

Two of three lawyers the University asked to review consent decree interpretation before the meeting determined discussing Rebuild Ryan Field at the meeting was not “in the spirit of” the court order, said Dave Davis, NU senior executive director of neighborhood relations. 

“It was important for Northwestern to be here,” he said. “But we’re only going to comment on things that we believe are consistent with the consent decree.” 

Vice President for Facilities Alex Darragh and Vice President for Operations Luke Figora responded to residents’ questions similarly. 

Dave Schoenfeld, a community representative on the committee, said the consent decree’s interpretation shouldn’t be so narrow. 

“Clearly, any use of property in connection (with a) reconstructed or expanded stadium — or extensive or increased use of the property — plainly comes within the consent decree,” Schoenfeld said. “That should be discussed in the committee.”

The discussion on what subjects the committee could discuss followed more than 40 minutes of public comment from residents opposed to current Rebuild Ryan Field plans and in support of a community benefits agreement between the city and University, which would require NU to invest more in Evanston public services.

Fiona McCarthy, a 7th Ward resident, said she is worried about noise pollution and adverse environmental effects that may result from the rebuild and new proposed uses of the stadium. Other residents in attendance agreed.  

“These are major impacts to our lives that we didn’t sign up for,” McCarthy said. 

Student representatives from NU Graduate Workers, Students Organizing for Labor Rights and Fossil Free NU also attended the meeting. They said they supported a community benefits agreement as well. 

For SOLR, this support comes from campus-based past experiences, SESP sophomore and SOLR representative Hana-Lei Ji said, because the University has not been able to keep promises it made related to workers’ rights on campus. 

“The concerns of the Evanston community are completely justified,” Ji said. “This is why SOLR … supports the community benefits agreement to ensure that Northwestern’s promises are followed through.”

Davis said NU plans to meet with committee chair Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) and other city officials on April 19 to determine whether the committee can discuss Rebuild Ryan Field under the consent decree. 

Kelly said the University officials’ announcement during the meeting was the first time she heard of such plans. She added that she would like to see the committee hear about issues between Evanston and NU before the latter submits Rebuild Ryan Field requests to the city. 

While the University has requested a zoning text amendment, it has yet to submit a planned development application, which allows construction for the new stadium. The city will review the two requests at the same time, according to the Land Use Commission. 

“I would like to see that there’s a pause on this until we come to community agreements,” Kelly said. “That’s really essential for Northwestern’s success as well. You don’t want to go forward and create animosity with the community.”

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