We are Evanston residents who own and reside in properties within very close proximity to Northwestern’s athletic complex, the area which contains Ryan Field, Welsh Ryan Arena, Rocky Miller Park, athletic practice facilities and some large parking lots. For zoning purposes, the City has labeled this area the U2 district. Most of us have lived in our houses for decades.
As you have been at Northwestern for 10 years, you are no doubt aware that the relationship between the University and the City of Evanston has historically been fraught with issues and tensions. One of those issues which has been a source of conflict between NU and the Evanston (and Wilmette) residents living near the NU athletic complex is NU’s periodic attempts to change city zoning to allow commercial events in the U2 district. In 1971, after a 1970 staging of a professional football game at then Dyche Stadium, lawsuits and a zoning ordinance resulted in the current prohibition against professional sports and commercial events in the U2 district. In 1975 and again in 1976 NU unsuccessfully sued the City of Evanston to allow professional events. Three more times between 1978 and 1984 the City blocked NU’s efforts to stage pro sports or concert events. Finally, in 1996, after a protracted dispute between NU and the area neighbors, the City Council voted to deny NU’s request to change the zoning to allow a professional tennis tournament.
After 23 years we felt secure in our belief that Northwestern had finally put to rest the idea of monetizing its athletic facilities to the detriment of our neighborhood. We have no problem with amateur NCAA events, graduations and other University related uses (of which there are hundreds a year). We also appreciate the dialogue that has existed in recent years, which, among other things, resulted in NU’s agreeing to honor neighbors’ requests when renovating the west parking lot. We were therefore disappointed and outraged when we became aware of the University’s latest attempt to change the zoning in the U2 district.
We hope you realize the level of outrage and anger this proposal has aroused among your neighbors. Only two other Big Ten schools have any single family residences within 1000 feet of their athletic facilities, and those schools have only 31 and 79 residences compared to over 500 within that distance of NU’s facilities. We have learned to live with the inconvenience of the various amateur events, but when NU, a property tax-exempt institution with an over 11 billion dollar endowment, wishes to add a few more dollars to its coffers at taxpaying homeowners expense, we say enough is enough! The traffic, noise, safety issues and adverse effect on our property values are very real to us, and are not things we can tolerate.
Two neighborhood meetings were held this summer, led by two representatives from the NU Athletic Department. Upon questioning by neighbors, we were told they projected a total net profit of $400-600,000 from six concert events (assuming a best case scenario of sellouts at $100 a ticket), and a multi-day tennis tournament. This amount would merely be about 0.5% of the revenue generated annually by NU athletics (which we were told is about 95 million a year).
We do not know where in the University the idea to request an amendment to the zoning ordinance originated, but suspect it was with the athletic department, based on the sloppiness of the filing (documents were filed with errors), the mistaken information presented by NU’s athletic department representatives (the amount of ticket tax revenue projected for the City was overstated by a factor of about three, as they did not realize the City amusement tax is only 4%, unlike the 12% athletic ticket tax), and the timing of an expensive Welsh-Ryan Arena renovation being recently completed. Adding to this suspicion, we were told that the Athletic Department has a separate budget, and cannot access NU’s endowment for its expenses, which would be a reason for them to look for other revenue sources.We sincerely hope that you could intervene to stop what will only result in the highest level of antagonism between NU and its neighbors that has ever existed. Please ask yourself if a relatively insignificant amount of revenue to the athletic department is worth causing years of bad feelings and conflict with your neighbors, as well as massive amounts of negative publicity.
Nearly 900 residents and businesses have signed a petition asking to deny the proposed zoning amendment. Listed below are some of the organizations and individuals who oppose the zoning amendment.
Very truly yours,Northwestern Neighbors.org –
Andrew Berman / Mary Rosinski / Christina Brandt,
Spotlight on Evanston – Yvi Russell,
Asbury Northwestern Neighbors – Ken Proskie
Evanston Neighbors Against Pro Sports – Al Williams
North Evanston Watch – Laurie McFarlane / Judy Berg
Evanston Economists for Growth – John Nader / Joe Hill