A rendering shows the proposed new Ryan Field, to replace Northwestern University’s current football stadium. Credit: Northwestern University

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.

A rendering shows the interior of the proposed new Ryan field, including a canopy that Northwestern University says will reduce noise and light pollution. Credit: Northwestern University

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.

Town-gown relations

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.

Financial impact

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.” 

Susy Schultz

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

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  1. I love this! I live two blocks away and I think it will look terrific. If we are able to have concerts or events that bring more people, money and fun to Evanston… GREAT!

  2. My concern is the ability of emergency and fire trucks to easily use Central Street during construction given the many large vehicles required to remove and rebuild the stadium. With parking on both street dufes and oncoming traffic I can envision flat bed trucks, cement mixers, etc to greatly reduce the available street width and neighboring streets ste likely to narrow tip accommodate them

    Please be sure that this issue is addressed
    Sigrid Pilgrim

  3. Let’s build it! This is an excellent opportunity for Evanston, one that will contribute both economically and socially to the life of the city for decades to come. And, let’s make those zoning changes to encourage the more efficient use of this new facility and to bring greater economic and cultural vibrancy to Evanston.

  4. I’m adjunct faculty at Northwestern, so I got an email right before the PR release to re-assure faculty that the funding for this is not coming out of their budgets. Not surprising given some of the anger among faculty and students about the massive investments thrown at the new b-school and football facility while other buildings (occupied by Undergrads) are left to rot: Norris, Cahn, Fisk Hall. Medill, the flagship college at Northwestern for years is basically an afterthought now. Sometimes I wonder if the University even wants undergrad students anymore – why not just be Ryan Family Office, an executive training facility, some R&D Labs, and a football team? That seems to be the funding priorities of the University.

    One thing I love about Evanston is that I can take my kid to college football games and the whole town is there because it’s cheap and fun and not too serious. Would be a bummer if they took that experience away so that some ultra rich donors can get nice box suites 6 times a year. I’m bummed (also the renderings are pretty ugly!)

  5. Yesterday I wrote an objection to having an open loading dock at the new animal shelter in view of neighbors and businesses in Southwest Evanston.
    Ironically today I read about the new Northwestern stadium. To quote the article “designing an underground loading and service dock AWAY FROM THE SIGHT LINES of nearby residents and businesses “. Capital letters are mine.
    As I said yesterday Southwest Evanston continues to be treated as an area where there is no consideration for its residents. Therefore anything is acceptable. Not so much.

  6. Hey, Northwestern, what are you thinking? The zoning for the stadium does not allow for-profit entertainment events such as concerts. Have you submitted an application to change the zoning? Attempts to change the zoning to allow such events in the past have been the subject of ferocious fights in City Council and you should certainly anticipate that this will be the case again. Plans for “financial viability” of the stadium that rely on an anticipated zoning change that would allow for-profit entertainment are a fool’s errand.

    And RoundTable, what are YOU thinking, gushing over the initial drawings (which are likely to undergo substantial changes in the course of actual construction) as “a graceful and beautiful place that celebrates students and athletics”? This language certainly sounds like a quote from NU’s press release although there are no quotation marks in the article’s text. Where is your journalistic responsibility to employ a critical eye in reporting?

    Sign me “Looking forward to hearing a lot more about this project”!

    1. So, Ms. Laurie, thanks for your comment. But let me correct an assumption here. The is no “gushing” over anything in this project at the RoundTable. We don’t know enough about it to gush or to disparage. We know only what is in the long news release with beautiful pictures. The article you read describes the pictures we were all given that did show “a graceful and beautiful place that celebrates students and athletics” but really when you ask an artistic to make a picture, it’s a concept, not reality. The announcement yesterday covers a lot of bases but also begs many questions. And we had many, many, many questions. Not the least of which was why didn’t people think it would be wise to either hold a news conference or be available to respond to calls or texts to answer our questions? Or if this was such a collaborative process with Evanston, why were no officials part of this roll out yesterday or at least available to talk about it? There may be a lot of good here, there may not be — but yesterday, was just frustrating. We were grateful that the city manager at least texted us a general quote. So, there is no gushing in this article at all. If that is not clear, perhaps the author was just a no talent hack.