Facing Northwestern University’s plan to profit off its proposed rezoning of Ryan Field for commercial events, while hiding the true costs to the surrounding communities, we’re announcing the formation of the nonprofit Most Livable City Association and launch of our first campaign – “Field of Schemes” – aimed at raising awareness about Northwestern’s plan.
In September, Northwestern unveiled its design for the new Ryan Field, describing the new facility as a “more intimate setting” and a “modern stadium campus with beautiful plazas.” After its carefully scripted public-relations rollout, the university secured positive media coverage, including in this newspaper, that repeated a consultant’s paid-for opinion that the project will generate “significant financial benefits to Evanston.” The rollout downplayed the costs to the community from the university’s plan to sell alcohol and hold 12 stadium concerts every summer at the 35,000-seat venue – a capacity between the size of the United Center and Wrigley Field but operated by a nonprofit that does not pay property taxes.
But we don’t have to accept Northwestern’s latest attempt to turn Ryan Field into a tax-exempt booze-and-entertainment center by dividing our community with assurances that sound too good to be true. Far from offering a fair deal to the taxpaying residents and businesses of our community, only Northwestern will be enriched by hosting commercial events at its new stadium. It’s a cash grab.
While Northwestern plans to profit off its Ryan Field proposal, it will impose costs on the rest of us that will change our community drastically. We don’t want to become Wrigleyville – some of us have lived there, done that. Ryan Field differs from most other college stadiums in that it sits in the heart of a residential neighborhood. Neighbors knew when moving here there would be a handful of college football games. They did not know Northwestern, a nonprofit university, would try to rezone the stadium to profit from massive, alcohol-fueled concerts and nighttime entertainment while maintaining its tax-exempt privilege.
We have multiple concerns with the university’s plans for Ryan Field – many of these problems will affect residents and businesses throughout the entire community:
- Noise and light pollution from stadium concerts and other large-scale events,
- Nuisance behavior from intoxicated fans leaving concerts,
- Public safety issues from intoxicated drivers,
- Insufficient parking spaces and traffic congestion,
- Local patrons avoiding Central Street’s neighborhood retail shops on event days, and
- Northwestern’s failure to shoulder any of the community’s growing property tax burden to fund essential city services, pension obligations, and public schools, despite carrying on for-profit business activities.
Northwestern has an opportunity to show it is a good neighbor. The university should heed the community’s long-standing concerns about large-scale commercial events and alcohol sales at those events. Twelve stadium concerts per year equals one per week in the summertime. Just a few years ago, Northwestern told Evanston they would not try to rezone the stadium for any commercial events. This promise goes back further: when one of us moved to the area in 1985, a Northwestern senior executive said there was no reason to worry because the zoning code protects the neighborhood.
Our association plans to formally launch the “Field of Schemes” campaign in the next few weeks and will call on elected officials to make their positions known. Our goal is to enter a meaningful neighborhood partnership with Northwestern that aligns with the university’s educational mission and with maintaining quality of life throughout Evanston and Wilmette.
As we get this campaign started, you can learn more about how to take action by sending us an email.
On behalf of the Most Livable City Association,