Editor’s note: The original story has been changed to correct several errors in quotes. The RoundTable regrets the errors.
Northwestern University officials released a timeline Thursday night covering their $800 million Ryan Field project from design and pre-construction stage, which is already underway, to the planned opening of their new stadium in fall 2026.
Running along parallel tracks, the entitlements/permitting and schematics design should all be finished by summer 2023. Dealing with liquor licensing will be in spring 2023.
Mobilization/demolition should start in fall 2023, with stadium construction completed by summer 2026, and a dedication in the fall.
But the timeline announcement did not seem to be what residents were interested in discussing during the energetic Thursday, Nov. 3, meeting. People wanted more clarity on the school’s plans to apply for a city license and host full capacity concerts at the new stadium.
NU officials listened to the more than 80 residents who tuned in for the online meeting, but couldn’t offer more details about the school’s previous Oct. 12 announcement that they plan to hold concerts at the stadium in addition to football games.
This was the first of a series of “special topic” meetings Seventh Ward City Council Member Eleanor Revelle said she plans to hold to explore different aspects of the stadium project. This one was to cover land use/zoning approvals and code amendments that the university will be seeking.
Another Wrigley Field?
Some of the residents’ questions dealt with parking and changes in alcohol service as a result of the plan. The stadium stands in the midst of a a number of residential neighborhoods. The most intense questioning came toward the end of the meeting when the discussion turned to the proposed concerts.
Unlike stadium projects in other Big 10 towns, Ryan Field is surrounded by five residential neighborhoods.
John Labbe, who lives on Chancellor Street just west of the stadium, started by telling officials, he was neutral: “I’m not strongly against the events, I’m not strongly in favor of events. But I think you could help your cause a little bit if we had more information about what type of events you have in mind.
“And you know, currently we have maybe a handful of football games a year that have 35,000 or more fans. And you’re proposing to have as many as seven events, I think, a year with 35,000 fans.
“So there’s a point at which we cross a line where the neighborhood changes because you have so many events, right? I mean Wrigley Field is a different type of stadium. It’s a different type of neighborhood.”
Fielding the questions, Dave Davis, the university’s Senior Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations, agreed that residents deserve that information, but at this time, “we don’t know,” he said. “This is something that’s going to take place after 2026 when this new stadium [is] fully erected.
“What we do know is that we have to listen and stay in constant communication with our residents so we can do this in a way that does remain consistent with the natural and the existing character of that community.
“We don’t want to change that. We’re proposing a limited number of events because we feel that it wouldn’t change that natural character of that community. The number that we just put out there [at the previous meeting] was a maximum of 12 events.”
The new stadium is not going to be a dome, he pointed out. “It’s going to be a canopied facility. And so over about a seven-month timeframe, we’re looking at one or two events per month at 35,000 capacity.”
Fiona McCarthy, another resident, joined Labbe in his concerns. “Being a resident that lives directly next to the stadium, 35,000 person events…can be quite impactful.”
In addition, she said, “officials should take into account [they are] expanding Big 10 Network [football] games that will be taking up our beautiful seasonal Saturdays.”
Eyes wide open
Another neighbor, Mike O’Connor, said he spoke as someone who grew up in the neighborhood around the stadium, and he welcomed the increased use. He left the neighborhood after growing up and then came back, he said.
“I remember when this terrific asset wasn’t sitting empty 355 days of the year,” he said, noting that the city used to hold its July 4th fireworks at the stadium.
“I began raising my family about two and a half blocks away from the stadium. And three years ago we moved inside of a block,” he said.
“I was fully conscious of where I was moving,” he said. “I had great familiarity with it and understood that this asset, whether renovated or not, might find more utilization. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that I live in the neighborhood.”
Responding to one resident’s concern, Revelle said, “we will be having one of our special topic meetings on demolition and construction, so we can dig into some of these issues. But basically our plan is to have these special topic meetings roughly twice a month.”
Residents can sign up for meeting information and notifications on the city’s web page.