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.”
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.
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.”