Northwestern says the new Ryan Field would have a maximum capacity of 35,000, more than 12,000 fewer than the current stadium. Credit: Northwestern University rendering

The redevelopment of Northwestern University’s Ryan Field will generate “extremely significant” economic benefits, generating about $659 million in economic impact during construction alone, according to a consultant speaking to the Seventh Ward meeting on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The project will also provide an economic boost to the city through job creation and increased revenues, said Paul Umbach, a consultant with the Tripp Umbach firm, which was brought in by the university to study the project, who presented the highlights of the firm’s findings at the virtual meeting.

When asked about Northwestern’s calculations Friday, Nov. 18, City Manager Luke Stowe said: “City staff has not yet had an opportunity to independently verify the numbers presented last night at the special Seventh Ward meeting.”

A Northwestern news release cites the study in asserting that the Ryan Field project “will generate nearly $1.2 billion for the Evanston community” by 2031.

It says the analysis takes into account the economic impact of construction as well as income from hosting six or seven football games a year, and “is based on the assumption of 10 to 12 concerts per year and a small number of other ticketed, amateur events.”

Thursday’s virtual meeting was the second to be hosted by Council Member Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, focusing on various special topics about the multiyear project.

The consultants’ key findings include:

  • The annual economic impact of a new Ryan Field to the city would grow from $50.4 million in 2021 to $65 million a year by 2031.
  • Additional activity at Ryan Field, anchored by 10 concerts, would contribute $35 million in economic in annual economic to Evanston.
  • Direct and indirect revenue to the city would grow from $1.4 million in 2021 to over $5 million annually by 2031 because of the rebuild and stadium-based events.

“These figures include direct tax payments by Northwestern University,” the consultant report said, “and indirect taxes generated through local spending.”

Fewer seats may mean more level attendance

“There is reduced capacity at the stadium in the new design,” Umbach said in his presentation, “but we feel that the stadium will be a draw. There will be more full attendance than what you have right now, which is kind of an attendance that goes really really high for certain games and levels off for other games.

“We believe that the amount of seats that are sold will be similar but it will allow us to create more of an even state across the seven games and not as much interference with the highs and lows that you have right now, depending on the competition.”

Addressing the extra special events the university is bidding to hold, which have raised concerns from some neighbors, Umbach said, “It’s important to understand that to have a stadium of this size and of this quality and at this expense, you need to have it operating with additional public events that allows the stadium to provide the economic and social impact for the community.”

Northwestern University is touting the economic benefits to Evanston of the proposed new Ryan Field. Credit: Northwestern University rendrering.

When Revelle opened the meeting to questions, some of the more than 50 participants online pressed for more details.

A participant identified only as “David” by Revelle asked whether the analysis took into account other costs to the city, “such as increased maintenance and repair costs for the roads around the stadium and other infrastructure” during construction.

He also asked about whether neighboring businesses and homes would experience depressed property values and an increased need for fire and emergency services as a result of the project.

Umbach said the firm’s findings didn’t suggest depressed property values would result from the project. “In fact, the literature shows that public improvements like this at universities generally increase the value of properties in the university community,” he said.

Dave Davis, the university’s Senior Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations, said the university already covers the cost of police, fire and emergency services for all large events, “which include our seven football games, and we intend to continue with that practice.”

How rosy are projections?

Another participant, local analyst Jim Young, asked Umbach about the biggest assumptions being used in the projections, noting “they [the figures] look very, very rosy, right? It looks very optimistic.”

Umbach said, the firm in its analysis, is making the assumption that no calamity or pandemic occurs, affecting the project, and that “we’re assuming that people spend the same amount of money that they do now.”

He said the firm’s analysis assumes “people will come from a little further away, and stay a little longer because the stadium will be a draw to people “ and that they’ll choose Evanston to attend a concert over a venue in Chicago.

“We’re making an assumption that there’s the same kind of support for the football team that they have. We’re not assuming the team does better,” he said.

The proposed new Ryan Field would seat fewer fans than the current stadium. Credit: Northwestern University rendering

Davis said the project is estimated to generate $10 million in permit fees during construction, significantly outweighing the revenue to the city from ticket sales during the two years Northwestern will be playing away from Ryan Field.

David DeCarlo, a participant, asked officials what would be the expected revenues to the university from the expanded number of concerts it plans to hold.

In a second question/comment he said, “isn’t it correct that all the revenues to the city would actually be from taxes on eventgoers, not from taxes on Northwestern?”

Luke Figora, Vice President for Operations at NU, said that the project involves no public financing and said “we’re committed to making sure it’s sustainable in the long run.”

As for DeCarlo’s question about the taxes, Figora said the top line revenue numbers, as suggested, “flow through the university.” He said, “It’s really about [city] taxes on food and beverages, parking, ticket amusement tax,” that account for the main revenue numbers.

Next discussion set for mid-December

A woman who said she has lived in the neighborhood around Ryan Field said it needs renovation. “I never go there for games or anything, but generally it needs to be renovated and various things can be improved,” she said.

As for the analysis, “you have numbers, numbers, numbers,” she said to NU officials. “They’re speculative. We assume bad concerts and events are going to sell out and we don’t seem to be taking into account things like traffic in our residential streets.”

Revelle announced her next “ special topics” discussion, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 15, will focus on event day management, including “some of the issues we touched on this evening — crowd management, public safety and particularly traffic and parking.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Do other Big 10 universities use their football stadiums for concerts or other events in the off-season? What about universities with football stadiums in residential neighborhoods? What has the impact been, both positive and negative? Time for the city of Evanston to do some benchmarking. I’d expect that research to be done by an independent resource paid for by NU.

  2. The impact of concerts will most likely be entirely different than football games. Concert goers typically go to the venue and leave after, they are not arriving early to tailgate or hang out to fill the evening like a day football game. I go to a lot of concerts in Chicago and people arrive about an hour or less before (if assigned seats), and leave to go out to eat or drink or go home within 20-30 minutes of the end of the show. I would focus on discouraging driving and street parking, that is the only reason concert goers would be on your residential streets.
    Comparing the impact to Wrigleyville, doesn’t make much sense, b/c it is an densely populated entertainment hub. I lived there for 10 years and there have always been lots of clubs and bars, both associated with wrigley field and not. If you did compare, you’d probably find that property values have steadily increased to be one of the most expensive areas in the city, but It’s just not a comparable area.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Just to clarify if anyone goes back to the story looking for a reference to Wrigleyville, while the comparison was brought up at the meeting, it was not reported in our story as there were numerous comments during the online discussion. Again, thank you for your comment. Susy Schultz, editor

  3. I’ve lived two blocks from the stadium for 20 years, and I am extremely concerned about the new stadium’s impact our community, as are many of my neighbors. Managing six to seven mostly daytime football games a year becomes a different story when you add 12 raucous evening events and alcohol sales are involved.
    Northwestern’s totally theoretical economic projections do not account for the costs to neighborhood residents in terms of noise, congestion, safety, and nuisance from public intoxication — people urinating and throwing up on our property. These are external costs, quality of life questions, that will be borne entirely by Ryan Field’s neighbors. The costs are very real, though difficult to quantify. Will the added events bring down property values? We know they will make it difficult to enjoy our community on those days.
    All of these concerns were raised at the meeting, but it is hard to tell from this story, which reads like it was written by Northwestern’s PR department. While you report some community members’ questions, you fail to remind your readers that most of those questions went unanswered. Northwestern will be creating a profit machine for itself. But they pay no property taxes, at a time when our school districts are boosting their property tax levies to the extreme.

  4. As a long term neighbor of Ryan Field, I would very much like to see an impact study Not from Northwestern as well as an article that shows both the potential positive and the definitive negative aspects of this intrusion into our neighborhood. Once again, none of the numbers are verified, none of the very real concerns about the negative impact on our quality of life, safety and property values are taken into account. It’s easy for NU to present this as an “economic boost” but without facts and a non-biased assessment of increased costs for city services, overcrowding that strains existing infrastructure, and the verifiable, negative impact to the actual taxpayers in the neighborhood, this is just a PR pitch. It’s also easy to support things that have absolutely no impact on you. Feel the same way if it was out your front door? I thought we were a more considerate community that that. There’s a reason we chose to live here and not in Wrigleyville. NU has a habit of presenting all their “improvements” as beneficial to Evanston. Let’s see some real math. Let’s talk about cost/benefit analysis that’s really about the community and not about NU income. Let’s talk about why NU is pushing so hard for something they know the neighbors have vehemently opposed for decades. Let’s talk about why we continue to allow the decimation of the very things that brought us to Evanston. We all moved into the area with the expectation of game days…messy, noisy, inappropriate behavior and rude guests, ok. 6 or so times a year, we can deal. Concert and other unspecified events… will be 20 to start and then there will be no end to it. This proposal, absolutely hard no.

  5. If these financial projections are even half correct, this is an incredible win for Evanston and for many of the businesses along the Central Street corridor. Yes, there will be rowdy fans, as there have been for decades. And, just as has always been the case, sometimes things get out of hand. That’s why there should be, as there is now, ample security for these events. But, these rowdy exceptions do not justify turning down and standing in the way of this incredible development opportunity for Evanston. Let’s build the stadium and make the legal changes necessary to guarantee its’ success, including the ability to serve alcohol. And I look forward to attending those musical concerts!

    1. I’m not sure Central businesses see this as a boon. Restaurant/bars may benefit but the retailers I’ve talked to say game days are losers for them. The fans crowd out parking and discourage regulars from coming to the area and fans don’t spend as much time or money in the shops.

  6. There were many concerns voiced that are completely ignored in your article. 12 outdoor concerts means 30,000 people most likely every summer weekend will descend from June -August. Light and noise pollution. LOTS. None of this to date was discussed by NU at the meeting. We must include quality of life consideration for the 7th ward. I suggest you examine the impacts to the 7th ward that will irrevocable change the character of our neighborhood from a harmonious balance of residential, commercial and university to a nightmare of congestion, noise potentially throughout the ENTIRE summer. A good place to start would be the impact of night events at Wrigleyville.

    1. Dear Ms. Cohen, That is likely true. This is an article about the meeting and what happened there. It is not an analysis of the proposal and the full plate of neighborhood and city concerns. I understand your complaints about the things not yet being discussed. The process on all this has not been transparent. But we will also keep covering the meetings as well as outlining other concerns in various other articles. We barely begin to write about this issue. Thank you very much, Susy Schultz, Editor

      1. Two high-ranking Northwestern officials sit on the Roundtable’s board of directors, but this fact is absent from the story. Wouldn’t it be more transparent of you to disclose that in your coverage of this issue? The Washington Post tells its readers Jeff Bezos owns the paper every time his name appears.

        1. Thank you Eric. But I think you’re comparing a large, profitable apple being Mr. Bezos to a small but beautiful and delicious orange, our RoundTable. The two are not the same. Nor is the structure or the finance. We do not hide who is on our board, it’s right on our website with their biographies. We announce when someone joins the board — who they are and what they do for a living – in a story. We are a nonprofit with a governing board — none of them own the company or have stock in it. No one on our board is making a profit from their work here at the RoundTable. We are happy to make ends meet. Our board donates its time and money to keep a community news organization afloat. We fundraise to keep going. The Post on the other hand is a for-profit entity, owned by Jeff Bezos who also owns about 10 percent of Amazon as well as Blue Origin and a host of other entities — all of which are for profit companies. When his company is mentioned in a story, there is a potential for him to make money or even lose money. So, ethically, the Post has to disclose the information. Indeed, it has disclosed it adds an additional layer of editors when editing a story on Beezos’ businesses. But I respect and appreciate a skeptic. So, thank you for bringing it up. Susy Schultz, Editor

  7. Why not have 30 concerts at the stadium? That way pensions would be funded, reparations would be funded and everyone could have solar panel roofs and the city portion of our property taxes would be cut in half!

  8. Northwestern is unlike most universities in that its stadium is surrounded on all four sides by residential neighborhoods. Having more large-scale events at night at Ryan Field, including concerts, and serving alcohol at them will have a profoundly negative impact on residents living near the stadium.

    I live two blocks from Ryan Field and have first-hand knowledge of what happens in the neighborhood when there are night events and alcohol is involved. I still clearly remember the experience I had walking my dog with my daughter one night in 2019 when there was an evening game against Ohio State. It was not even 9 p.m. and we had to watch our step to avoid the glass shards from broken beer bottles that littered the sidewalks (I have the photos that show this). We saw many beer cans in front yards, observed a young man urinating in a neighbor’s driveway, and were approached by a visibly drunk man who tried to have an extremely personal and inappropriate conversation with me. I fear that if these proposed changes at Ryan Field take place, rather than endure this kind of behavior a couple of nights a year, the neighborhood will have to endure it several months a year.

    In addition, we will also have to put up with traffic congestion on event nights. We already must put up with this during the daytime when there are home games. But at night after a concert or other event where alcohol is being served, if we are being realistic, this will include some drivers who are under the influence, which will make our roads unsafe.

    I agree with Tom Hayden’s comment to the October 12th Evanston Roundtable article Northwestern to Pursue Concerts, Alcohol Sales at Ryan Field in that NU is a nonprofit institution, but is operating in this venture as a for-profit enterprise.