On Wednesday, Northwestern University rolled out via a 2,459-word news release its elaborate plans to rebuild and downsize the current Ryan Field.
The rebuilding of the stadium was announced last year at about this time. The details are the culmination of the work Northwestern has been doing since.
The release contained what are termed preliminary artistic renderings and schematics of a graceful and beautiful place that celebrates students and athletics, while becoming more of what the 97-year-old current stadium could never be: accessible, as well as built with an eye toward sustainability.
The pictures and the descriptions say it will be more intimate (which means smaller) – with a capacity for 35,000, or 12,000 fewer than the current stadium – and surrounded by green space and plazas.
The release praises the generosity of the main backers of the privately funded project – Pat and Shirley Ryan, for whom the stadium was renamed years ago when they footed the bill for an earlier renovation.
Earlier this month, it was announced that the Ryans gave to their alma mater the largest single donation in Northwestern’s history, $480 million.
The news release stresses that this money is not just for athletics. Indeed, it will also go to biomedical, economics and business research. The gift is part of the university’s recently completed $6.1 billion “We Will” campaign.
The release also addressed easing of tensions between the university and its home, Evanston. There is often an innate tension in that town-gown relationship. The release assures Evanston that this project was developed in conjunction with the city. It says:
“Over the last year, Northwestern has been meeting with neighbors of the stadium, including formal sessions with the 7th Ward Working Group, led by Evanston Councilmember Eleanor Revelle, to understand concerns and prioritize community feedback on the design. Based on that feedback, the initial design concept includes:
- Plans to reduce vehicular traffic when the stadium is in use. Some concepts under consideration include:
- A complimentary bike valet program, to promote safe cycling while improving traffic flow and provide safe bike storage during game days;
- A capacity reduction of more than 12,000 fans;
- Initiating conversations with Metra, CTA and ride-sharing services to explore more efficient scheduling and availability on game days
- A modern design that will reduce noise and light pollution.
- Designing an underground loading and service dock, away from the sight lines of nearby residents and businesses.
- A year-round facility that will further promote community engagement and offer opportunities for Evanston and local non-profit organizations.”
Passages in the release list the positives for Evanston:
“The new stadium project will create significant economic benefits for Evanston. During the construction phase, the project will generate more than $10 million in direct fees and more than $600 million in indirect economic development for the City of Evanston. It also will create more than 2,900 new jobs during the rebuild.
“The University also is committed to creating economic opportunities for minority-owned, woman-owned, and local Evanston businesses. The target for total subcontracted spending with local, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses for the Ryan Field project is 35%, with priority given to businesses and individuals located in Evanston.
“The University plans to share additional concepts with the larger community through a series of listening and learning sessions over the coming months before formally beginning the entitlement process with the City of Evanston. The University looks forward to having conversations about potential uses and programming opportunities associated with such an amazing facility.”
There is also a website to inform Evanston about the progress.
The release also makes clear that the sustainability of the stadium also means making sure the venue makes more money than just via seven football games. Northwestern intends for the new facility to host “a limited number of concerts each year” to “ensure the financial viability of the new stadium.”
No specific number of concerts is given, as there is also a promise of partnership with Evanston in determining that number.
Although this is written right below: “Preliminary market studies indicate that the current interest in concerts in the area could generate over $35 million in new tax revenue for the City of Evanston from Northwestern over the first decade of the new Ryan Field alone.” Whenever there is an estimate of revenue, there is an indication that specifics have been used in calculating it.
City Manager lists benefits, stresses collaboration
The RoundTable could not get a lot of words out of anyone on Wednesday outside of this news release. We emailed and/or texted Mayor Daniel Biss, City Manager Luke Stowe, Council member Revelle and Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates to ask for more specifics about hearings and community feedback on this very huge project.
We heard back from Stowe: “The newly released Ryan Field proposal promises to improve the competitiveness of Northwestern Athletics while offering many benefits for the Evanston community including sales taxes, amusement taxes, construction permit fees, and the hiring of local MWEBE [minority, women and Evanston business enterprise] contractors.
“We look forward to working with Northwestern University and the Evanston community to ensure we collaborate on a final plan that benefits all stakeholders.”