The Central Street Master Plan and its implementing ordinance were designed to keep the neighborhood welcoming, walkable, and liveable.
The American Planning Association honored this in naming Central Street one of the “Great Places in America,” that combines “an edgy urban vibe with a small-town pace and sensibility.” Such an asset generates value for all of Evanston.
The Central Street Neighbors Association (CSNA) has worked for years to preserve the viability and human scale of the area, to amplify the neighborhood’s character and strengths, and to promote liveability and sustainability.
Northwestern University’s bid for dramatic zoning change, so as to hold as many as a dozen 35,000-person stadium concerts plus numerous other large events, would put these goals at risk.
Injecting such a scale of outdoor commercial entertainment would disrupt the neighborhood ecosystem. So, while the board of CSNA does not oppose a new stadium, we cannot support the unprecedented proposal for enormous change in U2 district use.
The Ryan Field proposal isn’t just technical text change. NU’s ask would saddle an adjoining Evanston residential and business district with frequent crowds bigger than those of Rosemont’s Allstate Arena (whose concert capacity is less than 20,000), the United Center (23,000), or Tinley Park Arena (28,000).
Concerts and festivals this size, plus vaguely described smaller “plaza” events, would turn what the neighborhood currently tolerates on game days — clogged traffic, disappeared parking for shoppers and residents, noise pollution, and intoxicated attendees leaving by both foot and car — from an occasional nuisance to a constant problem. This would also congest a principal route used by emergency vehicles.
Football games, a college life staple, are expected in a stadium neighborhood. But only six or seven weekends a year.
The commercialization for which zoning change is sought, more resembling the business of a for-profit entertainment conglomerate than higher educational purpose, wasn’t what any homebuyer or tenant bargained for and would triple the days when residents must deal with the greatest influx of traffic clogging the streets and gobbling up parking, on top of the many medium crowds from basketball games, baseball games, and graduation.
No other midwest Big Ten school runs a comparable commercial venue in such a family-dense neighborhood; neither do DePaul, Loyola, or Chicago.
Typical concerts are multiples louder than football game average volumes. So, while an awning roof may reduce some game loudspeaker and crowd roar, and a commitment to reducing light pollution is welcomed, overall frequency and amount of event noise will dramatically increase.
Since the stadium won’t be covered, we know the shows won’t be winter concerts — not in Chicagoland. This translates into traffic and noise at least every other warm-weather weekend, perhaps weekly, during the times of the year when families treasure parks and yards for picnics and get-togethers.
The very nature of “residential” and “quiet enjoyment of the premises” is threatened by this scale of activity.
Northwestern’s plan also suggests new food or even alcohol sales outside the stadium on tax-free land, which is troubling from both a nuisance and policy perspective.
Northwestern got permission several years ago for a pilot program of a few large concerts, to demonstrate that it could minimize the disruptions anticipated. It never did so. Now it has upped its ask many times over, without the showing of being able to manage it.
A new stadium is one thing; constant event zoning is another. If, as NU asserts, it needs big show revenues to run the new arena, perhaps it is overbuilding.
Spending half a billion dollars on a stadium is Northwestern’s choice, but the City shouldn’t endorse sacrificing quality of life for thousands of neighboring families.
The venerable University is an integral part of Evanston, but no Evanston institution should ignore human environmental impact, or, cynically, seek to divide residents by wooing constituencies outside the stadium neighborhood with financial promises.
It’s hard to imagine any other neighborhood in Evanston wanting its backyard regularly transformed into RiotFest. So far, local stakeholders’ input has been minimal. At community meetings, Northwestern has been doing more talking than listening. A blitz is appropriate for football, but is not how you have a dialogue.
Few Evanstonians agree on everything, but we are bound by mutual respect and empathy. Not all of CSNA live near the stadium, but we stand in solidarity with the residents faced with such a shock.
CSNA cannot support the plans for a drastically expanded and commercialized stadium district and event schedule, nor zoning change to enable that. All of us need to respect the legitimate objections raised by our fellow Evanstonians who would have to bear the brunt of these disruptions.
The Board of Directors of Central Street Neighbors Association
Mary Lou Smith
Excellent summary of just some of the issues presented by this huge change proposed by Northwestern. There needs to be a lot more discussion with Evanston residents. I live in south Evanston and am concerned about the impact on residences and nearby businesses. And very few benefits present themselves to the City in this proposal.
The NU proposal is about the straw that broke the camel’s back.
7 football games
2 commencement weekends
12 special events in the summer
21 Annual Disruptions at a Minimal to the Neighborhood (7th Ward)
As an incentive to the residents of the 7th Ward the City of Evanston could
offer to eliminate the wheel tax and the parking on the street permit charges.
The loss of this revenue to the city could be made up by NU.
NU is too powerful and well financed for this proposal to not eventually go through. However, 7th ward residents should at least receive some form of compensation for the significant disruption that these additional events will cause in their lives. If you live at 1300 Central Street as I do this disruption
is a really big deal.
My experience with traffic at night football games is that it is a far bigger
problem and more disruptive than day games.
Thank you, CSNA, for your analysis.
Northwestern has now submitted their proposed zoning changes to the City, and although they offer to limit 35,000-person “concerts” to 10 days a year, they are seeking an unlimited number of 10,000-person indoor or outdoor “musical performances” (among other events, including an unlimited number of non-collegiate sporting events with no attendance cap)—all while removing the existing requirement that events be “of a non-profit nature.” To call these changes drastic is an understatement.
There have been a lot of comparisons to Ravinia by supporters of the zoning changes, but don’t be fooled: NU isn’t angling for the CSO or the Wiggles to pack their stadium. Douglass Park neighbors no longer want Riotfest in their backyard, and I see nothing in NU’s proposed changes that would prevent them from hosting the three-day concert.
It seems to me that NU should swap its athletic facilities locations. Build the new stadium on the current Lakefront site of its lacrosse, field hockey, and football practice fields. Move those displaced facilities to the Dyche area. That way the neighbors will see much less impact and NU could be free to schedule whatever events it wants. It will take some creativity but can be done. An elegant win-win solution.
Yes, NU will try and do what is in the best interest of NU.
This is where the City of Evanston has some negotiating power on behalf of ALL residents. Promises of this, that and the other without an actual Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement is just talk. We are done with the talk NU – we’ll see y’all at the negotiating table. Yeah, and Mr. Davis, believe me, we are ALL aware NU doesn’t pay taxes.
In full transparency, I support Northwestern’s offer of a new stadium and the opportunities it can provide for residents, businesses and students. It is a generational opportunity. As an Evanston resident for over thirty years, I don’t recall any other entity offering to invest $800 million in a sharable space with no public funding. How might the entire community benefit? Could a new funding source from concert tickets be a way to fund important community programs, such as reparations or continuing the guaranteed income program? Perhaps a fee added to each ticket for discretionary funds for these and other social programs can sustain them.
In fairness, I understand the concerns of nearby neighbors. I, too, would worry about parking. Perhaps this can be mitigated as Ravinia does, but including a free Metra ride to the park with every ticket. If you’ve taken advantage of this offer, you might agree it seems to works as the trains are packed. Could events be a way to revive our struggling downtown by encouraging parking in the garages with a shuttle service? I, too, don’t want intoxicated patrons disturbing my neighborhood. Could the agreement include private payment for extra security and neighborhood clean up crews on event days? Yes, concerts will be loud. The plans I’ve read indicate some concerts will be indoor at Welsh Ryan. The dates for outdoor concerts should be well known in advance to adjust plans accordingly. Can we ask Highland Park and Ravinia for suggestions? The Ravinia Festival, in a residential neighborhood, attracts 600,000 people to over 100 outdoor concerts over three months annually. They seem to have figured it out.
Perhaps we can use the mutual empathy and respect suggested to come together and find a way to make this work for the benefit of the whole community. I live in the Fourth Ward. None of my neighbors said, “You know what we really need? We need to turn a B&B in the middle of a residential street into a homeless shelter.” I am in the minority of my neighbors who believes we should support this idea because it’s what Evanston needs. We need to think beyond the inconvenience and problems that it brings to our block and make this work for Evanston. The needs of our community are bigger than the needs of our neighborhood.
Finally, how can we turn from shouting to conversation? From confabulation to facts? Statements such as “Northwestern got permission several years ago for a pilot program of a few large concerts, to demonstrate that it could minimize the disruptions anticipated. It never did so” mislead. A global pandemic disrupted those plans. Or, “Riotfest”. Really?” I presume it’s not intentional, but the suggestion that Northwestern should not engage with other community members outside of the Central Street area lands as a bit arrogant. I wish we could all turn down the heat and hyperbole around the stadium plans and have a dialogue. And, CSNA or anyone interested can bring their objections directly to Northwestern. They offer regular listening events at Anderson Hall. The last one for January is tomorrow, January 31 from 9:00-11:00 AM.
“Few Evanstonians agree on everything, but we are bound by mutual respect and empathy.” May we all aspire to live up to this sentiment.
I am neither for nor against NU’s stadium plan, largely because it is still unclear exactly how this plan is good for the City of Evanston. Even at 10 outdoor concerts per year, down from their initial proposal of 12, it is indeed constant disruption in that neighborhood during the summer months. June, July and August is a total of 12 weeks. Nearly every weekend would see concert crowds. Even if concerts continued into September, extending the season to 16 weeks, 10 of those 16 weekends would have large events.
Could they be managed with remote parking, shuttles, public transit, etc.? Of course. That is not a guarantee the Central Street area would not still be burdened with congestion on a minimum of 10 weekends during the summer and early fall.
Could there be some kind of fee attached to the tickets that goes to the City of Evanston? Yes. This is a great idea. Ticket “fees” are attached with eye-rolling regularity. Is NU agreeing to something like this? Is the City going to step up and demand real financial benefits from such a deal? Sorry, not a great track record here.
I’m going to repeat myself and say once again: This is a HUGE ask from NU that goes far beyond their educational mission. It creates a potentially untenable burden for the city, both in terms of infrastructure and residential neighborhood disruption. The university’s rosy projections contain exactly zero guarantees at this point. I want to know precisely what’s in it for the City. And I should think the City would want to know this too—especially before granting the zoning variance to be considered at the Feb. 22 Land Use Commission meeting. We should all show up and make our questions and concerns heard.
I think the utter shock is at Northwestern’s attitude that it can operate a for profit business when it’s a not for profit university. How are summer concerts when students are mostly gone meeting its educational mission? NU continues to demand the stars and the moon and not directly financially contribute to the success and viability of Evanston. They didn’t even contribute the $1M to the Good Neighbor Fund last year. They can and should do better.
Turning our backyards into RiotFest? This has to be a joke right?
Once again, the opponents of the new stadium appeal to hyperbole and fear to justify self-interested NIMBYISM. Why is it appropriate to make reference to “Riotfest”, “concerts every other week”, and “for-profit entertainment conglomerate” when none of these phrases come anywhere close to what Northwestern has proposed? “Riotfest”, seriously? And why is it appropriate to critique Northwestern for “wooing constituencies outside the stadium neighborhood” when it’s quite clear that had they not done so they would be condemned by this same crowd for failing to seek consultation and engagement with Evanston’s diverse communities? And, am I the only one who senses the delicious irony in a group of people claiming they live in a neighborhood with an “an edgy urban vibe with a small-town pace and sensibility” while in the same breathe they express utter shock at Northwestern’s plan (supposed) to serve food and “even alcohol” outside the stadium? I guess “edgy” means that Francis Willard wore a dress that let us see her ankle? All of this rhetorical hyperbole does a disservice to Northwestern and to Evanstonians who support a new stadium and a new concert venue, a majority of Evanstonians based on the polling.
“Why is it appropriate to make reference to “Riotfest”, “concerts every other week”, and “for-profit entertainment conglomerate” when none of these phrases come anywhere close to what Northwestern has proposed?”
You’re right. What Northwestern has proposed is the equivalent of TEN RiotFests every summer.
“And why is it appropriate to critique Northwestern for “wooing constituencies outside the stadium neighborhood” when it’s quite clear that had they not done so they would be condemned by this same crowd for failing to seek consultation and engagement with Evanston’s diverse communities?”
The audience for these 35,000 seat concerts will not come from “Evanston’s diverse communities.” Concerts of that size will be attracting people from the whole of the Upper Midwest, the vast majority of whom couldn’t care less about the quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium.
“All of this rhetorical hyperbole does a disservice to Northwestern and to Evanstonians who support a new stadium and a new concert venue, a majority of Evanstonians based on the polling.”
This stadium polls well because Northwester has fooled a bunch of Evanstonians into thinking that this expanded stadium will mean a geyser of money pouring into Evanston’s coffers. The entire history of these types of projects tells the opposite story. But people are always suckers for a siren song, especially when the anticipated costs will be borne by other people.