Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct Northwestern’s endowment amount, which is $15.4 billion.
About 125 people came to a town hall meeting Sunday at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center organized by community groups to discuss a hot button topic: Ryan Field.
Community Alliance for Better Government hosted a forum with speakers from Northwestern University Graduate Workers Union, Most Livable City Association and the Fair Share Action committee of Evanston.
None of the speakers seemed to flat-out oppose the construction of a new stadium at Ryan Field.
Instead, they see Northwestern University’s $800-million Ryan Field project as the opportunity to negotiate an agreement between the university and the city.
“All taxpayers carry the burden of supporting Northwestern,” said David Ellis, former co-chair of the Fair Share Action committee of Evanston, who was a speaker at the event.
“We are now at a time where they do have a reason to negotiate,” Ellis continued. “We need to talk to the aldermen and the mayor and express your views of what you think. I’m not saying the stadium is a good idea or bad idea. All I’m saying is the Northwestern needs to pay its fair share, period.”
CABG President Lesley Williams moderated the event. The four-speaker panel introduced themselves for five minutes each. Audience members wrote their questions down on note cards for Williams to read to the panel speakers.
David DeCarlo, a founding member of the Most Livable City Association, asked the audience to show city council support for establishing the task force Payment In Lieu Of Tax, or PILOT.
First Ward City Council Member Clare Kelly, who attended the Feb. 19 event, proposed this task force July last year to the Finance and Budget Committee. The task force would work toward collecting contributions from large tax-exempt organizations like Northwestern.
The committee supported establishing the task force unanimously Aug. 9, 2022.
Kelly told the RoundTable Feb. 20 that forming the task force wasn’t inspired by the Ryan Field project. She wants to hear if Northwestern President Michael Schill is on board with the task force or not before bringing the task force for discussion with the council.
Northwestern’s Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations Dave Davis wasn’t at the event but told the Chicago Tribune the university won’t make payments because as a nonprofit it doesn’t pay property taxes.
(Second Ward Council Member Krissie Harris was at the Feb. 19 event and Seventh Ward Council Member Eleanor Revelle listened via zoom.)
The 2000 Fair Share Referendum was supposed to require Northwestern to pay for its public services and notify the city before it takes a property off the tax rolls, Ellis said.
“We provide police and fire services for them for no cost,” Ellis said.
Shortly after the referendum passed, Northwestern took its 1900 Sherman Ave. property off of the tax rolls, Ellis said. He estimates that property generates between $40,000 and $60,000 in taxes a year.
“They continue to take tax property off the tax rolls,” Ellis said.
Kevin Brown, senior director of external affairs and community partnerships for the Safer Foundation, challenged Northwestern’s promise that 35% of its subcontracted spending will be with Evanston minority- and woman-owned businesses.
In 2015, Brown worked with the university to create a workforce development and training program for African Americans and Latinos, he said. The program helped 24 people get training and full-time employment at the university. But Northwestern terminated the program after four years because the school couldn’t afford it, Brown said.
“I am upset by the fact that they would approach our community with this ruse to say that we’re creating a project now that’s going to create 3,000 jobs, and we’re going to set aside these jobs and target the most disenfranchised in this community,” Brown said. “It’s not believable to me.”
Brown said Northwestern can afford to contribute more to the city. Northwestern has an endowment of $15.4 billion.
Williams added that there hasn’t been much information about the jobs Northwestern is promising to the community, such as how long the jobs will last.
“Another issue with these supposed jobs that are going to be coming to us, do we know if these are going to be good jobs, and do we know if the jobs with the contractors Northwestern is working with are going to be good jobs?”
One strategy that can help ensure that Northwestern will commit to paying its public services, create jobs for the community and invest in Evanston the way residents see fit is through a community benefits agreement.
Northwestern graduate students voted to unionize after the university didn’t voluntarily recognize their union. Emilie Lozier, co-chair of the University Graduate Workers Union, said the union created a team to help support residents in negotiating a benefits agreement.
Undergraduate representatives from Northwestern’s Students Organizing for Labor Rights, who were in the audience, took the microphone to say they support the community negotiating a benefits agreement with the university.
“The best chance of securing these demands is if we turned our bargaining into a joint community effort, in which many of you would have our backs where we have your backs, and apply pressure on Northwestern jointly because it will require organized and concerted pressure,” Lozier said.
“In exchange for the new stadium Northwestern wants, our community should ask for the things that we value,” DeCarlo said. “I’m going to echo a lot of the points that have been made: direct investment in our schools, commitments in writing for local and minority hiring protections for our unions, free access to the stadium plazas, respect for our zoning laws and more.”
The RoundTable spoke with a handful of audience members after the meeting. Many residents who attended supported negotiating a community benefits agreement.
Bob Hercules, a resident of the Seventh Ward, and his friend Andy Berman, from the First Ward, supported committing to a community benefits agreement.
“I’m strongly in favor,” Hercules said. “Northwestern has not contributed to our community for so many years. It’s time to step up. We can leverage this stadium proposal for community agreements.”
Two women, Anthea and Joanne from the Fifth Ward, who didn’t want to provide their last names, said they felt like the Ryan Field project was a done deal and there wasn’t much more time to negotiate. Both women wanted more action from the city council and Mayor Daniel Biss.
“Show us some genuine support,” Joanne added.
Nancy Sreenan, of the Sixth ward, said council members need to speak up on this issue more.
“My aldermen really ran hard on Northwestern paying their fair share, and I just haven’t heard from Thomas Suffredin on this issue at all,” Sreenan said. “Nothing, nada, zip, zero.”
All for the new stadium. I live outside the immediate stadium area but close enough that the traffic on game days is something I have to deal with if I am out and about. The current stadium is a bit of an eyesore, especially if you compare it to IA or MI. A new one with proper access for people with disabilities and an environmentally friendly design sounds great to me. Also, I’ve no issue with adding concerts – sounds fun! I do agree that they city should get some fees etc in exchange for approving this because I do think NW DOES NOT contribute enough to the city in ACTUAL money. Fees could be used for upkeep on the roads near the stadium which might need more TLC with the extra traffic, to cover the cost of fire and police which I think NW is not contributing to at this time, and heck even fix the MANY MANY messed up sidewalks in our town. (Forever wondering why some of my VERY high taxes don’t seem to going there at all) Also, the extra shoppers and dinners that these events will draw will definitely be good for many of our local businesses.
This approach is wrong in so many ways. Saying yes to a project that should never be so that we can get a few questionable returns is giving NU a strong message that they can steamroll over Evanston anytime they want as long as they throw in a few favors. This is amazingly naive given NU’s history of dishonesty. What is zoning for if it goes to the highest bidder?
The NON-PROFIT NU seeks a zoning change that irrevocably disrupts an entire peaceful neighborhood purely for the stated sake of PROFIT. Zoning laws should give a solid measure of control over neighborhood concerns. To subvert that for extremely nebulous “advantages” is irresponsible and borders on malfeasance. “What can Evanston get from this?” is a sad and shortsighted perspective. In the end, giving in to NU can only mean the same advantages of the free ride NU already enjoys on the backs of Evanstonians, with some possible meager and short-sighted financial gain for Evanston, and a huge diminishment for the entirety of northeast Evanston in particular, as well as a general decrease in quality of living in all of Evanston: Massive traffic on roads that cannot even remotely accommodate it, the trash, urine, noise pollution of inebriation. It will NEVER be worth it.
Lastly, there is no way around the massive disruption these events will do to hospital operations at Evanston Hospital. There is no deal that could possibly circumvent that. The Hospital and its services will suffer over the long term, and likely result in a decline in healthcare in Evanston. How sad.
Joel, please consider (1) sharing your views with the City Council and city staff and (2) joining the Most Livable City Association, which (like you) opposes rezoning. Our position is that the rebuilding of the stadium itself—which the City must approve through the planned development process—is an opportunity to demand that NU pay its fair share to our city and schools. You can learn more about the MLCA on its website and view a recording of the town hall on its Facebook page.
One of the most interesting things brought up by Emilie Lozier at the meeting is that one laser lab she and other students work out of has a sewage leak that NU has been informed of and has failed to fix.
In addition to the obvious health risk to the students & employees, it really makes me wonder how they plan up upkeep & maintain Ryan Field should it be rebuilt.
That’s also something I would like to see NU commit to in writing.
The 14.5 billion endowment figure is incorrect. The Daily Northwestern published the wrong figure.
The endowment is one billion more. It is 15.4 billion, as published in NU’s official 2022 Financial Report, signed by Craig Johnson, Executive Vice President.
Here’s the exact wording in the document:
” Most of the University’s financial activity returned to or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in fiscal year 2022.
Challenging financial markets impacted Northwestern’s endowment after record returns in fiscal year 2021, leading to a decrease in net assets from just over $16 billion last year to $15.4 billion. The University ended the fiscal year with positive operating performance of $138.7 million collectively across its schools and units, which will enable some areas to address previous commitments and plans for future growth.”