The Community Alliance for Better Government, one of the groups that has been skeptical of Northwestern University’s plan to rebuild Ryan Field, will convene a town hall with similar groups, part of a campaign for a community benefits agreement.

Northwestern says the new Ryan Field would have a capacity of 35,000, more than 12,000 fewer than the current stadium. Credit: Northwestern University rendering

“Here you have a billion dollar project that is going to significantly change the landscape of two Evanston neighborhoods, that is making rather extravagant promises of contributions to the community that have not yet been verified,” said CABG President Lesley Williams. “There seems to be this willingness to simply allow this to go through and to assume that this is going to be good for Evanston.”

The town hall will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 19, at Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center. People can also tune in via Zoom. To submit questions to the speakers in advance, email

CABG doesn’t support the way the university is moving the project forward.

“If Northwestern is allowed to push through this really massive change to the zoning in a primarily residential neighborhood, that’s a very bad precedent to set,” Williams said. “That means that Northwestern or any other major developer would be more likely to be able to ask for such a change in zoning, not just in the Seventh Ward but in any ward in the city.”

The alliance wants something similar to Chicago’s agreement with the Obama Presidential Center, Williams said.

The Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance was passed by the Chicago City Council in 2020. The Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition fought to ensure the presidential center wouldn’t displace residents. So it had the Obama center agree to provide jobs for surrounding residents, protect housing as well as support and invest in Black businesses and nearby schools.

“If Northwestern is claiming that it’s going to provide all these benefits to Evanston, we should get that in writing, in terms of the number of jobs for Evanston residents and jobs for African American and Latinx residents,” Williams said.

Additionally, the agreement between the city and the university could limit the number of programs, concerts and other requests at Ryan Field, Williams said.

A number of community groups will speak at the town hall, but they decided not to issue a formal invitation to Northwestern because they didn’t want to provide a platform to the university. But NU representatives are welcome to show up anyway, Williams said.

David Ellis, the former co-chair of the Fair Share Action committee of  Evanston, who supports pressuring Northwestern to make payments to the city in lieu of taxes, will be among the speakers to talk about the importance of creating a community benefits agreement.

The CABG distrusts Northwestern’s promise that 35% of its subcontracted spending will be with Evanston, minority-owned and woman-owned businesses. The organization also questions whether the 2,924 jobs that Northwestern said the project will create will be permanent and whether workers can unionize.

The Northwestern University Graduate Workers Union wants to help advocate for the university to make a commitment to organized labor for this project, said Emilie Lozier, co-chair of the union.

“Frequently these big projects use contract work, and just because you’re working through a contractor, we feel that Northwestern does still have a responsibility to workers that are brought on,” Lozier said.

David DeCarlo, one of the founding members of the recently formed group Most Livable City Association, will speak on the group’s issues with the university’s zoning requests.

The university submitted an application on Jan. 25 to amend the zoning laws that limit events. If passed, Northwestern would be permitted to host unlimited events for a maximum of 10,000 people and 10 full-capacity concerts at Ryan Field or Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“I think what will come out of this discussion is just some really good, tough questions for city officials that they’ll have to grapple with,” DeCarlo said. “We will be getting a lot of feedback from residents and businesses too in that session on what are some of their concerns.”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. Bravo CABG for focusing on accountability, which should be the guiding light in addressing the relationship between Evanston and Northwestern. If there is to be trust and true partnership, transparency also is key. Northwestern has chosen to spend a fortune on a stadium marketing campaign, rather than taking the simple and honorable step of being transparent. How about releasing your CSL economic study, NU? Why the steadfast refusal to do so?