The new Northwestern University stadium, the state of downtown and public safety were key talking points at a brief Fourth Ward meeting Tuesday, Feb. 7.
(Fourth Ward City Council Member Jonathan Nieuwsma cut the meeting short to avoid an overlap with President Biden’s State of the Union address.)
The redevelopment of Ryan Field stadium will generate $1.2 billion in revenue in Cook and Lake Counties, with another $35 million contributed to Evanston, according to NU’s economic impact study.
However, Nieuwsma said the city needs an independent study, which is set to discussed at the city council meeting on Feb. 13. “Their report paints a pretty rosy picture. We’re not gonna take their word for it,” he said.
Dave Davis, Northwestern’s executive director of neighborhood and community relations, was on the original agenda for the meeting, but that discussion was moved to the next ward meeting.
The university previously submitted a zoning application for the stadium. The council member said the school withdrew that application as it was based on the current stadium. The new proposal for the stadium calls for alcohol sales and 10 public-facing concerts.
“To me, the logistical challenges are something that we’re going to have to figure out,” Nieuwsma said.
The council member said the project represents a chance to bring the school into the fold of the city’s economic life.
“This is a once in lifetime opportunity where we have something that Northwestern wants. We have the opportunity to exercise leverage with Northwestern and work with them,” he said.
Community members at the meeting asked about the status of downtown, as well as other major developments including Margarita Inn and Albany Care. One resident expressed concerns with shuttered store fronts and vacancy rates downtown.
Nieuwsma said vacancy rates in Evanston are consistent with national trends, however, in some cases, tenants continue to pay rents without visible occupancy, as in the case of the closed Panera Bread, 1700 Sherman Ave., with the company paying rent through spring 2023.
The council member also said downtown is reeling from the loss of office workers.
Community members at the meeting expressed concerns over the Margarita Inn, which became a temporary homeless shelter run by Connections for the Homeless during the pandemic shut down. It has applied for a license to becoem a permanent shelter. “I’m holding out hope for a strong license. We don’t want to turn into another Albany Care,” said Evanston resident John Cleave.
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, the city and Connections for The Homeless, a local nonprofit signed a Good Neighbor Agreement for the project. Nieuwsma said the facility’s operating license and special use permit are agenda items for discussion at the Feb. 13 city council meeting.
Albany Care, which closed after its license was revoked, reopened last fall under its regular license and has been accepting patients since October.
However, “they’re still under the microscope from [the Illinois Department of Public Health],” Nieuwsma said.
Officer Mike Jones shared updates about burglaries and thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The police department announced a steering wheel lock giveaway for Kia owners on Thursday, Feb. 9. The department last month did a similar program for Hyundai owners, which ran out quickly.
While the police department continues to face staffing issues, “the morale is up,” Jones said, adding that with a pay rise under new contracts, “people are looking to come to Evanston.”