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 being on the agenda Feb. 22, it will be heard on the commission’s March meeting.

Northwestern University, in an application filed last week, is seeking to loosen restrictions on the use of a new Ryan Field football stadium by allowing unlimited indoor and outdoor lectures, speakers, performances and other events for up to 10,000 people.

The petition would also permit public concerts 10 times a year, expanding the hours for amplified music from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and “days preceding national holidays and legal school holidays.”

The request for 10,000-person events, spelled out in a zoning ordinance text amendment submitted to the city on Wednesday, Jan. 25, is “intended primarily to allow for the use of the new Ryan Field plazas by the community,” according to the application, submitted by Northwestern Vice President for Operations Luke Figora.

The amendment proposed by the university would change the parameters of the existing U2 University Athletic Facilities District that establishes event restrictions for the neighborhood along Central Street surrounding Ryan Field.

Currently, U2 zoning district laws only allow indoor, university-sponsored events or “community and cultural events of a nonprofit nature” for up to 10,000 people.

As part of the process, Northwestern hired Kimley-Horn and Associates to investigate transportation and parking needs on game days and for concerts. Last week, the firm filed a memo obtained by the RoundTable and shown below.

Concert capacity at the new Ryan Field would be about 28,500 due to facility alterations required for those events, according to Kimley-Horn.

The document details plans for crowd and traffic control for several thousand concertgoers to park at Ryan Field or at other university lots around town, and then travel to the stadium using university shuttles. Kimley-Horn is estimating that between 30% and 65% of all concert attendees would travel to and from Ryan Field on public transit.

The firm also suggested a similar event management plan as used on football game days, with a police presence and designated ride share areas. Plus, “access and parking restrictions could be employed to limit access to only residents during concert events,” according to the memo.

The next debate of the proposal was scheduled to be the Feb. 22 Land Use Commission meeting. But Jon Yates, a spokesperson for Northwestern, sent the RoundTable a note saying the university was requesting a continuance for the Land Use Commission’s March meeting.

At a community meeting held Tuesday, Jan. 31, Seventh Ward Council Member Eleanor Revelle suggested that more than one meeting might be necessary before bringing the application to a vote.

Attendees at that meeting also questioned how Northwestern was able to get on the commission’s agenda so quickly, when other groups requesting zoning changes or property developments have waited months after submitting an application.

“I was surprised” by that, Revelle said.

“Why is a billion dollar fun house being made here and now? Why must Northwestern stray light years from its educational mission by entering showbiz?” asked Aaron Cohen, a Ryan Field neighbor, to wide applause at Tuesday’s meeting. “Why won’t Northwestern commit annually and consistently to pay a fair share in lieu of taxes?”

Northwestern surveys and studies

The university also commissioned its own economic impact study and community survey to gauge resident support for the stadium development and for hosting concerts.

The economic study, conducted by the strategic consulting firm Tripp Umbach, found that the stadium could provide up to $101.9 million for the city of Evanston by 2031 through additional tax revenue and job creation. City council, under a recommendation from Revelle, is now interviewing firms to do independent research into the potential revenue that the city could gain through construction, concerts and events.

And, for the community survey, Impact Research interviewed 500 registered voters in Evanston about the new Ryan Field proposal and the idea of hosting full-capacity concerts. According to the data collected in that report, 56% of residents support the stadium redesign, while 29% oppose the project.

The majority of stadium neighbors within one mile of Ryan Field also support the plan, according to Impact Research. More people endorsed Northwestern’s proposal after hearing about community benefits for minority and women-owned businesses, as well as a lack of burden on taxpayers, suggesting those ideas “are persuasive arguments to boost support.”

“The majority of Evanston residents, including those within 1 mile of the stadium, support 12 concerts per year, with 64% of Evanstonians supporting vs 32% opposed,” the study said.

David DeCarlo, one of the founders of the Most Livable City Association, speaks against proposed zoning changes Tuesday night as Council Member Eleanor Revelle, right, looks on.

But more than 150 people gathered at Tuesday night’s community meeting on the matter were strongly against concerts and zoning law changes for the new stadium.

“We have to slow down this process. We have an urban planning design thing going on here,” Mary Rosinski said at the meeting. “And if they [Northwestern] want to make an entertainment district, then let’s talk about what’s on the lakefront over around campus. They can do it on the lakefront.”

Duncan Agnew

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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  1. I have to question Impact Research on their finding that the majority of residents living within one mile are in favor of concerts. How big was this sample and how was it chosen? Is Impact Research an arm of Northwestern U? Will the method for this study be reported or are we to take NU’s word for it?

    1. What are the raw numbers from this study? All it reports are percentages.
      How big was the sample of people living within one mile of the stadium? Are these home owners or renters? Until we get the answers, this study is highly suspect.

  2. I was one of the Evanston residents called to participate in the phone survey conducted by Northwestern University regarding proposed changes to Ryan Field. I was struck by the ambiguity and imprecision of the questions and commented about it to the caller. The queries were too long and complex and in some instances contradictory to previous questions. For years I wrote customer service / consumer relations communications and telephone scripts for large corporations. I never would have been paid if I had written questions as poorly constructed as the ones asked by NU’s outside survey firm. I certainly would not trust the results of NU’s heavily and clumsily skewed survey. I hope the city can do better.

    1. You should certainly hope that the city can do better than a Change.org survey, so easily manipulated to be laughable. Cull the signatures to Evanston residents who signed once and then once before complaining about Impact.

  3. When do they break ground? Will it be ready for Dead and Company? All those 65+ year olds (like me) party like crazy! Can I still park my Tesla on my friend’s lawn for $50? As a lifelong Evanston resident, I want a substantial discount on any tickets with access to pre-sales. If you build it I will come!

  4. Living in a neighborhood surrounded by Nortwestern student neighbors is a challenge during warmer months. I can’t even imagine living with this situation. I hope this proposal will be denied. On game days crowd noise and the announcer can be heard almost a mile away, near where we live. Other neighborhoods will also be impacted by this.