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

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

The Daily Northwestern

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‘A generational investment’: Mayor Biss explains his ‘yes’ vote on Ryan Field

Daily file photo by Kimberly Espinosa
Mayor Daniel Biss was the tiebreaking vote at Monday night’s City Council meeting, greenlighting Northwestern’s plan to rebuild and host concerts at Ryan Field.

In a nearly 2,500-word letter sent to residents Tuesday morning, Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss explained why and how he decided to break a City Council tie to approve Northwestern’s Rebuild Ryan Field project. He emphasized the potential for “historic” economic opportunity that the project could bring to the city.

The letter comes hours after the council approved the highly-debated project, permitting NU to rebuild Ryan Field and host concerts at the new stadium. The council also approved a memorandum of understanding requiring the University to provide Evanston additional financial benefits.

While the council voted 6-2 to approve the stadium rebuild, Biss’ vote proved decisive in allowing NU to host concerts at the stadium, and in authorizing a community benefits package between NU and Evanston. Councilmembers split 4-4 on these two ordinances, with Biss breaking a tie to advance the University’s plans.

After listening in on months of debate over the project, Biss said in the letter his approval was driven by the hope that the new Ryan Field will prove to be “a generational investment” for Evanston.

“I think Evanston needs to be willing to embrace change right now,” Biss wrote. “Our economic challenges won’t be solved by staying the same as we’ve always been or trying to return to 2019. Finally, our progressive values and ambition require funding to realize, and we won’t be able to access that funding without unfairly burdening those who can least afford to pay — unless we embrace growth and new ideas.”

Biss cited three main factors that drove his yes vote. The $800 million investment of the project could generate revenue for the city, he said, and the over $150 million pledged by NU in its community benefits agreement will help bolster initiatives across the city. He also said that “concerts can be a good thing,” and pointed out that such events at the new stadium will drive people to Evanston. 

Concert-generated noise and traffic have been a sticking point for stadium neighbors since the project was announced last fall. Biss wrote that the Ryan Field deal  includes “guardrails” to minimize negative impacts from concerts. 

The rezoning ordinance says the city will fine NU $25,000 for traffic, public safety and nuisance and parking violations. The University will also be fined if it violates limits on sound levels and curfews for the stadium’s sound systems, according to the ordinance.   

“When Northwestern saw these fines, they protested that they were out of line with fines at other similar venues around the country. With all due respect, that’s the point!” the letter reads. “Our goal is never to collect a dime from these fines – instead, we want them to be high enough to be a successful disincentive against pushing the boundaries.”

The debate over NU’s benefits package sparked criticism from some residents who wanted the University to provide the City with more resources. NU does not pay taxes to Evanston and is exempt from doing so under its corporate charter and the Illinois state constitution, which Biss called a “frustrating reality” in his letter.

However, he said the community benefits agreement represents “a new chapter in the financial relationship between our two institutions.” Biss said that he, along with other councilmembers, pushed NU to agree to the best benefits package possible for Evanston — and added City Council’s division on the project incentivized the University to “satisfy all the yes votes.”

Some groups, such as the Most Livable City Association, have criticized Biss and the council for making “backroom” deals with NU about the benefits package without including residents in these discussions.

Ultimately, Biss said he felt “temperamentally inclined” to greenlight the project, driven by his values as “a progressive and an optimist.”

“Simply put, no town of our size sees many $800 million investments like this … We all benefit when a private institution decides to spend an enormous amount of money to dramatically improve one of the largest structures in town,” he said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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