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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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City Council narrowly introduces Ryan Field concert plan, setting up contentious November vote

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
Residents held opposing signs in the Evanston City Council chambers as the body discussed Northwestern’s Rebuild Ryan Field project on Oct. 30.

After a contentious public comment period featuring more than 100 speakers Monday night, City Council narrowly voted to introduce ordinances allowing Northwestern’s plans to rebuild Ryan Field and host concerts at the new stadium.

As part of the $800 million rebuild, NU has planned to host public-facing concerts at the football stadium to help offset maintenance costs. However, the University needs permission from the city to do so and faces pushback from residents, particularly stadium neighbors and some members of City Council.

In a preliminary vote early Tuesday morning, some councilmembers expressed their reservations about the concert plan. The council narrowly voted 5-4 to introduce an ordinance for rezoning the area around Ryan Field, which is necessary to permit NU to host concerts. With councilmembers split 4-4 on the issue, Mayor Daniel Biss broke the tie to introduce the rezoning ordinance.

City Council voted 5-3 to introduce the ordinance for the rebuild of the stadium itself. Both ordinances will face a final vote at the City Council’s Nov. 13 meeting.

Alds. Clare Kelly (1st), Melissa Wynne (3rd), Thomas Suffredin (6th) and Eleanor Revelle (7th) voted against the ordinance that would permit concerts at Ryan Field. Alds. Krissie Harris (2nd), Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), Bobby Burns (5th) and Devon Reid (8th) voted in favor.

Ald. Juan Geracaris (9th) has recused himself from all Ryan Field votes because he is an NU employee. 

Before the vote, councilmembers amended the rezoning ordinance to impose restrictions on sound, safety and traffic — issues of high concern for stadium neighbors and opponents. They propose to fine NU $25,000 per traffic violation and $50,000 per sound violation. 

Though some members indicated opposition to allowing concerts, Nieuwsma, who introduced these amendments, called for residents to “accept” some impacts of up to six concerts a year. 

Kelly countered that the late-hour amendments – introduced around midnight – and the broader concert proposal amounted to a “wholesale deprivation of due process.” The council later approved the amendments in a 7-1 vote.

“(The restrictions) seem reasonable so far,” Dave Davis, NU’s neighborhood liaison, told The Daily after the meeting. “We look forward to conversations…. We are obviously happy about the outcome tonight.”

Earlier Monday, NU submitted a draft community benefits agreement to Evanston officials that commits $100 million over a 10-year period on initiatives investing in Evanston residents amid the stadium rebuild. 

Throughout months of discussion on the stadium rebuild, many residents have called for NU to establish a community benefits agreement, saying the University has a responsibility to offset potential negative impacts of the rebuild on Evanston residents. 

But in a presentation to councilmembers at Monday’s meeting, representatives of the Most Livable City Association, a resident-led group opposing the rebuild, called the plan a “publicity stunt.”

“NU should add another zero to the Good Neighbor Fund it’s offered,” Most Livable City President David DeCarlo said. “But the bigger difference of those peers of Northwestern University didn’t require a permanent, irreversible zoning change in return for 10 years of voluntary payments.”

In Wednesday’s proposed CBA, NU said it would increase its annual contributions to the city’s Good Neighbor Fund from $1 million to $3 million for a period of 10 years.

Public commenters and councilmembers at Monday’s discussion also debated how the rebuild would impact Evanston businesses. Most Livable City said the concerts would depress spending at local retail, saying residents would avoid them and go elsewhere during events. University officials responded by saying the additional visitors to Evanston would help boost the city’s economy.

Simmering tensions between proponents and opponents reached an apex when officials broke up a scuffle between opposing groups in the overflow room at around 6:10 p.m.

Despite divisions between councilmembers on the concerts, they called for civility among city residents in the run-up to the decisive November vote.

“Everybody has to stop threatening each other,” Harris said.

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