More than 20 residents attended an ideas gathering meeting for Northwestern's new Ryan Field project Tuesday evening. Credit: Alex Harrison

The agenda for Tuesday evening’s Seventh Ward meeting was to discuss ideas for the surrounding park and plazas outside of the the proposed rebuild of Ryan Field stadium.

But people went to the broader (and reoccurring) worries about the ramifications of Northwestern University’s project on their lives and their neighborhood. Particularly worrisome to the 20 people at the Wilson Club at Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena was the the impact of concerts and alcohol sales on the surrounding neighborhood. 

Northwestern’s VP of Operations Luke Figora, left, and Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations Dave Davis listen during Tuesday evening’s meeting.

Northwestern’s proposal to demolish and replace the nearly century-old football stadium includes hosting up to 12 concerts annually as well as expanding the sale of alcoholic beverages from the outdoor tailgate area to the entire stadium. And whenever people gather, those issues along with revenue contributions to Evanston and the concerts’ economics come up.

More than 20 residents attended an ideas gathering meeting for Northwestern’s new Ryan Field project Tuesday evening. Credit: Alex Harrison

Northwestern administrators Dave Davis and Luke Figora hosted the meeting. Council Member Eleanor Revelle, in whose 7th Ward the stadium is located, was unable to attend as planned after testing positive for COVID-19.

“My biggest concern is how much is this gonna jazz up my normal life?” Alex Burke asked. “I’m excited about the prospect of concerts, but I don’t want to have to walk three blocks to my house with my groceries.”

Burke said he thinks concert attendees would pack nearby streets with cars. He said his family already has to plan “24 hours in advance” for football games to avoid losing their parking.

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

Davis said the university will help the city produce a traffic study and identify possible parking solutions for nearby streets, such as special parking restrictions for game days. He stressed the city’s role in implementation, saying NU is unable to directly remedy parking issues outside the stadium site.

“This is not something Northwestern can do alone, we don’t have the authority to change the parking rules in the City of Evanston proper,” Davis said. “There’s only so much that we can do until the city needs to step in and help determine what our neighbors are willing to accept.”

The numbers: revenue and concerts

Resident Peggy Baxter suggested phasing in the concerts over time instead of hosting all 12 concert events in the first year, allowing time to assess the impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

But Davis replied that starting with 12 would be necessary to make the stadium financially sustainable, and that incremental changes are difficult in the concert industry due to scheduling occurring “multiple years in advance.”

Figora added that while concerts will be necessary for financial sustainability, the university recognizes the greater demand they place on the nearby community and will seek to balance it by hosting large-scale community events desired by residents.

“If the community was to come and say, ‘Gosh, we would love to do a Winter Classic here once a year,’ or something like that, certainly that’s something I would imagine that the athletics department would be open to,” Figora said. “I think what we’re trying to do is find a bridge with the community as much as possible.”

Architect’s rendering of proposed new Ryan Field that would replace Northwestern University’s current stadium. Credit: Northwestern University rendering

Attendees also asked about ways Northwestern might share new revenue with the rest of Evanston, with several mentioning the university’s exemption from paying property tax.

Figora cited NU’s economic impact study, which predicted $3.5 million in new annual tax revenue by 2031, generated by sales of football tickets, concert tickets and concessions.

Resident Eric Herman said he also wants to see Northwestern make contributions to Evanston’s public school districts, which are funded separately from the city and entirely by property taxes. He said the university’s tax-exempt status shifts more of the school funding onto local homeowners.

“What about a payment in lieu of property taxes based on revenue from the stadium?” Herman asked. “Just like, a set percentage of gross revenues from the non-educational activities for which university made money. That seems like a reasonable way to contribute to equitable education in Evanston and to benefit the entire city.”

Davis said the university would take Herman’s idea into consideration, but clarified it wouldn’t legally be considered a payment in lieu of taxes. Davis told the RoundTable that the distinction is legally important, and that contributions to District 65 and District 202 would operate similarly to existing contributions to the City of Evanston.

“We have a mechanism for pushing money into the city, an example of that is the Good Neighbor Fund,” Davis said. “But the university is not going to make a payment in lieu of taxes because they don’t pay property taxes.”

Figora told the RoundTable the university will take suggestions and feedback from the community throughout the project’s design phase, and that there is not yet a target date for submitting a completed proposal to the city’s Land Use Commission.

The next Seventh Ward Ryan Field meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 over Zoom, and will cover event-day management issues like traffic, parking, crowd control and safety.

Alex Harrison

Alex Harrison joins the RoundTable for the summer in between his undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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  1. Without rigorous, independent studies (rather than simply a partisan, NU-bought study) of the economic and environmental impact of the new entertainment venue (which will also host a few football games), we can’t know how the new stadium will affect the city. But we do know that NU–while generally a great asset to Evanston–funnels a pittance to the city and schools compared with comparable institutions elsewhere. I would be curious to know how much the university will make from this new scheme? In the interest of transparency, that would be useful information.

  2. After reading this, I feel like I was at a different meeting! Yes, there were questions about parking, taxes and some complaints but the overall vibe was positive and solution focused. I especially liked the equity discussion and the fact that NU has committed to hiring minorities. The new stadium will be for all of Evanston not just the 7th Ward!

  3. Good afternoon, Alex, thank you for attending last night and capturing some of the dialogue. I understand that it can be more appealing to lead with a negative title, but unfortunately, what I think was missed both in title and content, was the number of impassioned residents who shared a desire to work together in partnership with Northwestern, residents who are skeptical, and the broader (beyond Ward 7) Evanston community to create something positive. I believe someone referenced this as – thinking beyond the most immediate concentric circle to the stadium (but not forgetting that we have an opportunity to limit impact to life for these residents) – to downtown Evanston, Central Street businesses, our schools, parks, etc. At the end of the day, it would be great for the Roundtable and other Evanston media outlets to acknowledge that there is great support for this project and want to work together to ensure we can put some guardrails in place to bring benefit to all and limit negative impacts to quality of life, etc.

    1. Dear Peggy,
      Thank you for your comment and I appreciate and respect your opinion. But it is not our role to support a project. Our role is to reflect the full conversation and the questions — which are so vital. Our reporter expressed in the story that the proposed agenda was not carried out as too many people wanted to air concerns. To my mind, bringing up concerns and getting those addressed is not a negative. It is exactly what informational meetings should do. Indeed, I have found the more information people have, the more they are willing to support something. It is usually the absence of information that sows doubt. The RoundTable at the end or at the beginning of the day, advocates only for transparency, open meetings, civic engagement and clear information for which people can take action — that is really the definition of news. But what that action is, is up to you, our readers. We have published your comment and the comments of many others, including a number of letters supporting this project. Perhaps, you missed those. We are also open to more letter from people who support the stadium and from those who don’t. We promise only to continue publishing those respectful letters and to ask more questions. This process is in the early stages and there are still many questions that need to be answered, which is what we do. Again, thank you, Susy Schultz, editor

          1. With all do respect Suzy, I don’t think that anyone would expect The RT to take a side when reporting about local topics. My concern is that this reporter cherry picked what he thought was important and omitted the larger, more positive conversations and ideas that the community needs to hear about .