Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the original to reflect Northwestern’s request for a continuance to the Land Use Commission. Instead of this issue being on the agenda Feb. 22, it will be heard at the commission’s March meeting.
Of the more than 150 Evanston residents who came out to the city council chambers for a Seventh Ward community meeting Tuesday night, the vast majority were, to put it lightly, not happy with Northwestern University and its plans for a new football stadium.
The university filed an application on Jan. 25 for a text amendment to the existing zoning laws that restrict events it can hold at the football stadium on Central Street in north Evanston.
If approved by the city council, that amendment would allow unlimited indoor and outdoor events or concerts attended by up to 10,000 people, and up to 10 full-capacity concerts at either the new football stadium (capacity 35,000) or Welsh-Ryan Arena (capacity 7,000), which sits next to the stadium and hosts Northwestern basketball games.
The current zoning laws allow Northwestern to host “community and cultural events of a nonprofit nature,” but the proposed text amendment eliminates that language, allowing “public-facing concerts” that do not have to be university-sponsored.
The amendment would also allow “guests and invitees” to park off street in the area, which used to be restricted to hospital employees and university students or workers.
“We signed up for six football games a year. We did not sign up for the rest of this,” said Fiona McCarthy, a neighbor of Ryan Field and advocate with the Most Livable City Association, which is seeking to prevent any zoning changes for the new stadium. “What is the expected timeline to remedy this [parking] situation? Because I do not want to wait to fix this. You’re hearing from the people in the room that this is obviously a heated, emotional situation for a lot of us.”
Along with McCarthy, dozens of residents spoke up at the Tuesday night meeting against the city amending any zoning laws to allow more concerts or other events attended by thousands of people from outside of Evanston.
Northwestern representatives were not in attendance and could not answer questions about the proposed changes and their reasons, though the university has previously said that hosting events would be necessary to get some money back on the $800 million stadium development.
As part of the concert provisions, the university is asking for amplified music or sound to be allowed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and days before holidays.
“I really question just how are all those people going to get to the stadium?” asked Seventh Ward Council Member Eleanor Revelle, who hosted the meeting. “And then, particularly when the concert’s over, how are they all going to get out of the neighborhood?”
Revelle also mentioned concerns about the height of the proposed new stadium, which will stand at 116 feet tall, according to Northwestern’s most recent designs. The existing Ryan Field is 139 feet tall at the press box, but only 48 feet in most other locations.
“It’s going to be bigger, I think, than anybody expects,” she said.
The university commissioned its own economic impact study, which concluded that the stadium “will generate nearly $1.2 billion for the Evanston community” by 2031 through new jobs, construction and tax revenue from concerts and events.
But the city is now looking to commission its own independent economic study, and several people at Tuesday’s meeting said they are skeptical about Northwestern’s claims.
“I think what we need to be concerned about with these proposed zoning changes is that all the other aldermen are for it,” Glynis Doyle said. “Right now, when I ask them why, they say jobs and sales tax. Well, I was at the basketball game, and I asked people at the concessions stand if they were from Evanston, and they said no.”
The first city council public discussion and potential vote in the process will take place at the Land Use Commission on Feb. 22, according to Revelle, though she suggested it could take more than one meeting to come to a consensus.
[UPDATE: Northwestern spokesperson Jon Yates told the RoundTable Friday, Feb. 3, that Northwestern had requested an extension from the Land Use Commission and the issues of zoning and the redevelopment of Ryan Field will be taken up at the March meeting of the commission.]
You can email Zoning Administrator Melissa Klotz with any written comments in advance of the meeting at email@example.com.
Parking was the other main bone of contention at Tuesday’s meeting, with residents complaining about their streets being blocked or a lack of traffic control during football and basketball games.
One Ryan Field neighbor, Leila Raab, said her husband had a heart attack as a football game was starting one Saturday, and she couldn’t get him to the hospital quickly enough because of the traffic, even though Evanston NorthShore was just a few blocks away.
“He could not be reached in time to get him to the hospital. We literally were driving down the middle of Central Street,” Raab said.
“We were going very slowly, my husband was in the back, and I started slamming my head against the window. … There was nowhere to take a detour. You’ve got fire engines and everything roaring down Central Street already, you’ve got hospital ambulances, and yet we’re going to put more traffic on Central?”
Revelle is proposing the idea of a resident-restricted parking area during university events, but that move would expand a parking district that already exists and require residents to pay a small fee to park on the street in the neighborhood.
Instead, most of the crowd at the meeting expressed support for a year-round, residents-only parking requirement for the community that would be free for all homeowners or renters. It would also require a months-long zoning amendment process.
“This has been a great conversation, and it shows you that we have issues in the neighborhood. We’ve had them forever,” Dave Berg said. “I’ve been here since ’76. We were involved in the ’94-’95 issue with construction, we were involved in stuff a couple years ago.
“Things haven’t changed. But the elephant in the room here, when are we going to talk about that? Because on top of everything we have right now, they want to bring in all these new concerts, all these new events. What are we talking about here?”
Pretty telling that the no concert crowd assumes show attendees are all “drunk revelers”. Tell me your biased without saying your biased. And I love the other concocted lie, year round concerts. Know anyone going to an outdoor concert November-May in Chicagoland. What about the families who think it’s cool to go to concerts in their town? Out of Space shows are great. If you live by a Big Ten University, stop the naive fallacy of pretending Evanston is a bucolic village. It is not and with its eroding tax base, you better hope other revenue streams are created. There are 70 houses of worship in you small town Evanston….does their non payment of tax vex you also, that’s a lot of land too. Please bring this new stadium to Evanston!
Nothing vexing about it. As soon as any one of those 70 houses of worship want to change city zoning laws to hold mega for profit concerts in the middle of a residential neighborhood, then I’ll protest their request too.
Not sure where i stand on this issue but the argument about “drunk revellers” seems off line. Highland Park has a summer full of concerts, many more than 10, at Ravinia and seems to rarely have problems. I saw Elvis Costello at McGaw Hall in the 90’s so concerts were allowed in the past here. Currently the Out of Space concerts are in the area and i believe take up 2 weekends per summer. So maybe get specifics on how Highland Park reins in what is permitted at Ravinia and how parking and other issues are handled there. Then make Northwestern hand over some $ to our city. I would say have all concerts during the football season so that there will be 9 months of relative quiet in the area.
McGaw Hall seats less than 3,000 people, and Out of Space shows attract about 3,500 each night for four nights running, so they comprise only a fraction of the people who would attend a concert at Ryan Field. This is why I think everyone in the pro-stadium camp needs to step back and consider the scale of what is being proposed. NU is asking for ten concerts of 35,000 people; that means we will be importing a group of equalling half the population of Evanston in its entirety practically every single weekend through the summer. The scale of the disruption to the surrounding neighborhood is not remotely comparable.
Second, given NU’s non-profit status, they are under no obligation to pay any taxes to Evanston for these concerts. And, if history is any guide, they will fall far short of their rosy promises to make it worth the community’s while.
Look, I have been a huge music fan my entire life; I’d wager I’ve seen as many or more concerts than almost anyone commenting on this issue. But this also means I’m very familiar with the aftermath of a concert hosting 35,000 people. It’s possible NU could make binding promises to share in the revenue generated and put infrastructure in place that would minimize the disruption nearly half-a-million additional non-residents pouring into the neighborhood would create. But we are not even remotely close to that yet, and we should not even contemplate the zoning changes they are requesting until we are.
I agree with the content and tone of Kevin Brown’s remarks.
In addition, yes Evanston is a small city…with a small town feel. What happens when that city of 80,000 people is swamped by a nearly 50% increase in foot and vehicle traffic with 10 full capacity (35,000 fans) concerts at the proposed new field.
It really galls me that a huge nonprofit institution that is enormously rich with tuition, fees, grants and endowment will rake even more money – at citizen and taxpayer expense – with massive for-profit concerts.
We’re 100% against a new NU stadium!! We live very close to the present stadium and that’s ENOUGH!!
We moved here in 1970, and will hate to leave “our home and Evanston,” but will be forced to do so. ISN’T IT ENOUGH THAT NORTHWESTERN U. OWNS SO VERY MANY, MANY TAX EXEMPT PROPERTIES IN OUR CITY ALREADY!!!!
The stadium has been here since 1926. I live DIRECTLY ACROSS (1514 Central Street) from the south end zone of Ryan Field. I moved here BECAUSE of the proximity to the athletic complex. Do those who don’t want the improvements trump the opinions of those who do? Deal with it or move.
“Improvements.” Hope you enjoy those “improvements” when you have thousands of drunk people milling around in front of your home, urinating in your alleys and parking lots, and screaming at each other well after midnight on practically every single weekend of the summer.
I live in the First Ward, but up near the stadium. I generally support the proposed re-zoning because I think it will bring things that are fun and exciting to my neighborhood, and putting up with increased traffic will be a reasonable price to pay. But — putting this next part as diplomatically as I possibly can — it seems like the photos above show a demographic that is not the audience I typically encounter when I go to rock shows and stadium concerts with loud music. So no wonder these folks feel hesitant and excluded! Has anyone considered reaching out to 7th Ward residents to ask what musical acts/artists/events THEY would enjoy seeing, and ensuring that the new stadium will book THOSE acts as well? I imagine it would be hard for anyone to support a proposed change if it won’t bring anything they genuinely enjoy.
If you want to live in Wrigleyville, then move to Wrigleyville.
The argument that the new stadium would somehow transform the neighborhood into Wrigleyville just makes me shake my head. And yet I keep hearing it from the very vocal percentage — not the majority, according to various surveys — who are opposed to the new stadium plan. Wrigley hosted something like 86 Cubs games last season, in addition to special events like concerts, non-Cubs sporting events, ice skating, etc. That’s quite different from the 6 football games; 10 full-capacity concerts (down from 12); and various graduation ceremonies and community events that make up the brunt of the new stadium proposal. Before you blithely tell a fellow Evanstonian to “move to Wrigleyville,” perhaps you should reconsider your talking points.
First, dozens of baseball games a year has been a feature of life in Wrigleyville for over a century. Second, you should educate yourself. The zoning changes requested by Northwestern would allow an almost unlimted number of events with attendance of up to
ten thousand people.
Finally, there is simply no comparison between Wrigleyville before night baseball and concerts and the neighborhood around Ryan Field today. The amount of disruption to life as it exists today in North Evanston would be greater by several orders of magnitude.
If, by your own admission, Wrigleville isn’t remotely analogous, why did you mention Wrigleyville to begin with? It’s your comparison, not mine. And I’ve read the articles and am well aware of the details of the zoning proposal. What I have not read are facts to back up alarmist conjecture.
Will Reichel. As should be obvious to all but the most obtuse, Wrigleyville is what North Evanston will come to more closely resemble if these zoning changes are approved. Furthermore, I find it interesting that you accept NU’s rosy projections at face value, but dismiss the concerns of neighborhood residents as “alarmist conjecture.” Sounds like you made up your mind without having all of the “facts” after all.
I am a graduate of NU and 40+ year Evanstonian. The University has always made token gestures of support to Evanston. So taking advantage of our community is not new.
This effort to build an $800+ million football field and entertainment complex is demonstrative of the ethical and moral decay of the administration and disconnected University leadership.
A recent study by the state of Illinois said that homelessness could be ended in Illinois for $1.2 billion. So what are we co-signing if we as a community go along with this insanity.
Enough is enough! The University should return to its educational mission and the Mayor and our elected officials need to focus on improving the lives of Evanston residents and not putting money into the pockets of a privileged few. One can hardly take a family of 4 to a football or basketball game without spending hundreds of dollars! Some community benefit.
If the City wants the jobs and sales tax then have NU build the new facility on their lakefront campus and relocate the athletic fields there to the Dyche Stadium area. An elegant solution that solves the 7th Ward parking and noise situation. Possibly even a lower investment cost for NU since building from scratch can be faster and less expensive than retrofitting. Think outside the box.
I totally agreed. I proposed this idea to Evanston Now some time ago, but the editor refused to publish it…
Kudos to the RoundTable.
Correct me if I am wrong, but this new stadium is in no way a “retrofit.” They are razing the old stadium and replacing it with a new one.
I am a graduate of Northwestern and a long-term resident in northwest Evanston. I agree that we as a community need to say ‘ENOUGH’ to Northwestern University.
We already experience road traffic and parking problems in front of our home with the football games. But if the stadium transforms itself into a concert stadium, with an open roof, we will be further disturbed by the planned night time events. Twelve outdoor stadium concerts with alcohol sales but inside and outside the stadium will be a significant disturbance to our lovely city. Parking issues and traffic problems will occur late at night after the concerts. I worry about concert goers driving their cars after partying in the stadium and I think this will be a predictable risk and disturbance to our neighborhoods.
We as a community need to think about what we prefer for Evanston. Hosting nonprofit community events with no sale of adult substances in the stadium is fine and matches what I want in Evanston. We need to maintain our peaceful, diverse community for all. Our community should NOT be controlled by Northwestern’s desires to grow beyond their identity of an excellent non-profit academic university.
One of the largest live concert venues in the state, in our small town is not welcomed. We should NOT allow the sale of alcohol inside and outside the stadium and parking needs to be restricted so residents can park near their homes.
Evanston isn’t a small town, it is a city of nearly 80,000. Northwestern University is the largest employer, by far, with nearly 10,000 people working under its auspices. I think people need a more realistic understanding of what Evanston actually is, not what we imagine it to be.
Hank, the fact is that Evanston has a small town feel in most neighborhoods (parts of downtown excepted). A large new stadium complex with year round entertainment will shatter that feeling for the central street corridor east of Green Bay.
Evanston does not have a small town feel—this is a comforting lie that people tell themselves to deny the changes that have taken place in our community. Evanston is a city of nearly eighty thousand people, and when people who have lived here for a long time start accepting that we might start seeing real positive change around here.
The city has changed, yet the majority of the comments here that are vocally against the stadium claim they have lived here since the 70s—there’s a real disconnect between the city as it is and the city as it is imagined to be.
Nice job Duncan,
Is it any surprise that the people who have been opposing change since 1976 would be the same people opposing change in 2023?
Maybe you could tell us why a summer defined by night-time concerts flooding a largely residential neighborhood with drunken revelers at 11 p.m., all to benefit a university that is hoarding 15 Billion Dollars in wealth and continues to parasitically feed on the community in which it is located, is a change we should support?
Without Northwestern, Evanston has no future—the tax base will empty out, the downtown will become even more blighted, and the city will not be able to fund its endlessly increasing agenda. I really don’t think it is worth arguing over this with NIMBYs who have against and all things Northwestern since the 70s.
I am hardly a NIMBY. But the claim that Evanston would collapse without Northwestern which (doesn’t even pay taxes!) is a claim entirely without evidence – has Wilmette collapsed? Kenilworth? The North Shore, including Evanston, is the most desirable area to live in the Midwest; this expansion of Ryan Field will do far more damage than good.
Are they threatening to leave if they don’t get the new stadium? Let’s be realistic, they aren’t going anywhere, and they don’t need this new stadium. If they want a new stadium more power to them I can support that and all the good it could bring to the community. But demanding they change the zoning to have unlimited for profit concerts (put to 10k) , and 12 full capacity concerts (all squeezed into a summer concert series) to afford this new vision for a stadium, then they need to go back to the drawing board and propose a new design they can afford and fits within the character of the neighborhood, the surrounding i infrastructure and larger township.
What is a surprise that people continue to get bamboozled by a profiteering institution masquerading as a altruistic non-profit.
If folks would actually take the time to read the proposed zoning amendments, and listen to the valid concerns from not only the nearby home owners, but also the businesses and the alderperson, then just maybe they could get past the media blitz full of promises they can’t possibly fulfill, and we can make NU do the right thing for all of Evanston for once. We can make them pay their fair share, and find a reasonable happy path for a new stadium with some reasonable level of expanded events.
The rest of Evanston is going to sell our selves short if they don’t open their eyes and talk to their alderman about what an opportunity this is. Not the false opportunity NU is ramming through the at break neck pace to their own greedy benefit, but the one to actually help solve our communities biggest problems and help all Evanstonians be a little better off.