Northwestern University is finalizing the contract with a construction firm for the new Ryan Field football stadium, officials told about 45 people Thursday, Feb. 23, gathered at a virtual Fifth Ward meeting.

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

The meeting, unlike other recent public discussions, was filled with mostly boosters of Northwestern’s project. And Jim Konrad, the college’s assistant vice president of procurement, payment and logistics, was asked for a specific breakdown of the 2,900 jobs that the university says the project will create both through short-term construction and long-term business impact.

He answered: “We haven’t been able to talk about the details as much, but once we’re able to announce the contract, the information’s really going to start flowing. You’re going to see much more intentional, specific information about the bid packages and opportunities to get involved. I think the floodgates will open.”

Konrad said Northwestern is poised to make a formal public announcement about the construction partner on the project soon, once the deal is complete.

Minority contracting

The discussions, unlike a number of previous community meetings, was not much about how many concerts might be planned for the stadium, but rather how many investments would be made into the community.

Both longtime Council Member and community activist Delores Holmes and resident Carolyn Dellutri said they were excited about the potential for money to flow through the pockets of residents and local businesses thanks to the stadium project, and they also asked for people to be open to this change.

Some might be opposed to the idea of added traffic or noise from the stadium, Holmes said, but she asked those people to make sacrifices for the good of the city because the Fifth Ward has made sacrifices for decades.

Several in attendance asked about whether the university was still committed to the goal of having at least 35% of the contracting companies it hires for the stadium development come from minority-owned, women-owned or local Evanston businesses.

Northwestern’s Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations Dave Davis then praised Fifth Ward Council Member Bobby Burns, saying he “did something very smart” early in the process by inviting Northwestern officials to the Minority, Women and Evanston Business Enterprise (M/W/EBE) Development Committee to meet with local qualifying businesses about interest in participating in the stadium construction.

For his part, Burns cautioned people to be prepared: “We have to build an infrastructure of people, organizations and partners to make sure that we can not only meet the goal of 35% but exceed it, if possible. There’s an effort to make sure we can deliver around the M/W/EBE goals, with an emphasis on EBE. I really want to make sure that Evanston-based enterprises are involved as much as we can get them involved in this project.”

Fifth Ward resident Tanya Brown was direct: “Are you guys willing to donate more money to the city beyond the Good Neighbor Fund?

“I don’t want to hear about the Good Neighbor Fund again,” she said. “I’m really trying to figure out what Northwestern can do for property owners who pay lots of property tax, and you guys don’t pay property tax. So I want to know what sort of funding you guys can help with, since you have all this money.”

The Good Neighbor Fund that Brown referenced was set up between the city and the university in 2015. It gave Evanston about $1 million a year in university dollars for five years through 2020.

While the agreement expired more than two years ago, Davis recently said that Mayor Daniel Biss and new university President Michael Schill have had discussions about renewing the fund.

Peter Braithwaite, the university’s director of procurement diversity and community engagement and former longtime Second Ward council member, also added that Northwestern is planning to soon release a ward-by-ward breakdown of Good Neighbor Fund projects, including a recent $400,000 renovation of part of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center building.

For his part, Burns said the “elephant in the room” was the university’s desire to host full-capacity concerts in the football facility, a proposal that has drawn the ire of local Seventh Ward neighbors.

At Thursday’s meeting, though, Fifth Ward resident Virna Garcia said many people see Northwestern as a “giant building hogging money,” but added that she personally sees the school as a resource.

About 125 people attended a meeting last Sunday at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center about Northwestern University’s proposed Ryan Field expansion project. Credit: Richard Cahan

“One of the investments we made was to renovate Fleetwood-Jourdain, and there was recently a meeting at Fleetwood-Jourdain to talk about what Northwestern has not done for the city of Evanston, which I found highly ironic,” Davis said in response to Garcia.

“A lot of that has to do with communication. Our goal here is to build the strongest community possible. We have to move past some of these historical barriers and challenges and animosity.

“For the most part, the vast majority of the Evanston community and Northwestern have a very positive and constructive relationship.”

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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. Bravo Tanya Brown for your direct statement about Northwestern’s track record of paltry support for Evanston. And to all those anticipating great jobs and minority contractor hiring at Ryan Field, ask yourselves, what is NU’s track record? The university has built plenty during the past 25 years and more. Has it created “intergeneration wealth” and strengthened minority and women owned businesses? It dangles promises and creates racial divisiveness to promote its own ends. And to Dave Davis, I would say that the community forum at Fleetwood about NU’s need to step up was symbolic, not “ironic,” as he was quoted. NU hands out a tasty cookie here and there while it feasts on caviar at taxpayer’s expense.

  2. NU thinks they’re feudal lords who can do whatever they want. If they were good neighbors they would share the actual data from their study and let the city do their own study before acting like this.

    I had a really positive opinion of NU before I lived in Evanston. It’s a shame such an elite school is run by people who don’t care about the community at all.

  3. This article provides an example of how NU quietly contributes to Evanston’s nonprofits. Perhaps the fact that NU doesn’t require fanfare for all of its civic gifts contributes to a misconception that they do nothing for Evanston. Acknowledging ways in which they contribute will provide balance to those who assume they give nothing.

  4. How can Northwestern announce its construction contractor when the economic impact study hasn’t even begun? Northwestern seems to think this new stadium – with its 10 concerts/year of 35,000 people – is a done deal.