Rebuilding Northwestern University’s Ryan Field has become a contentious topic in all corners of the city over the last year. Community organizations have come together to support, question and oppose the billion dollar project. The RoundTable has published more than 15 letters about the perceived pros and cons for the new Ryan Field.

However, there’s one group that hasn’t been nearly as vocal on the issue: the City Council and the mayor. 

Architect’s rendering of proposed new Ryan Field, to replace Northwestern University’s current stadium. Credit: Northwestern University

Thomas M. Suffredin, City Council member from the 6th Ward, is the only representative to publicly state his position on the project, writing a scathing letter earlier this month telling Northwestern officials to “come back when you’re serious.”

But the clock is now ticking for council members to say where they stand. 

The RoundTable reached out to each of the nine council members, along with the mayor and the challengers running for council seats this spring, with the same set of questions to determine their opinions and biases on the topic. Here are their responses.

Mayor Daniel Biss

On personal connections or conflicts of interest: “I’ve never worked at NU and I’m not an alum or a donor. I’ve been to I think less than half of a single football game there in my life. I have no business affiliations with the university.

“I don’t think there’s anything in my life that any reasonable person would consider to be a conflict of interest, but in the interest of over disclosure:

  • My wife, Karin Steinbrueck, got a PhD in history from Northwestern in 2017;
  • I attended three-week programs at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern during two summers I think in middle school (maybe summers of 1990 and 1991?); and
  • When I was an academic (worked on my PhD 1999-2002 and was at UChicago 2002-2008) I periodically visited Northwestern to give talks, attend conferences and/or talk with research colleagues.

On Northwestern’s desire to host up to 10 full-capacity concerts and the idea of a negotiating a community benefits agreement with the university: “As regards the stadium, I am committed to working through the many questions that the university’s proposal raises to ensure that we reach the best possible outcome for the Evanston community.”

Clare Kelly, First Ward

On personal connections or conflicts of interest: “My connections to NU run deep, probably deeper than just about anyone in this community. My great-great-grandfather Elhanon Searle was in the first graduating class of 5 in 1859. He gave the commencement speech on The Philosophy of Civil Liberties. After graduating he went on to work with Abraham Lincoln in his law offices in Springfield.

On Northwestern’s desire to host up to 10 full-capacity concerts and the idea of a negotiating a community benefits agreement with the university: “I have submitted a referral to create an official PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) Task Force. This referral received unanimous support from the Finance & Budget Committee and will go before the City Council in upcoming months for discussion and approval. I have engaged in discussions with President [Michael] Schill and [Executive Director for Neighborhood and Community Relations] Dave Davis about the task force, as well as with other leaders of local large tax exempt establishments. I continue the discussion about the task force proposal with NU. My hope is that NU will embrace and officially support this opportunity as it moves forward.

“I feel, as a city and as a university community, we need to consider the city’s zoning code and comprehensive plan as the city’s guiding documents. As stated in the comprehensive plan, the neighborhoods are the fundamental building blocks of our community. We need a thorough study and evaluation of the impact of both the proposed stadium and of the proposed commercial use of the stadium and the U2 District. The impact study needs to evaluate not only the economic impact but also the impact on quality of living and neighborhood stability. NU is requesting huge zoning variances for this project not only in scale (height, parking and more) but also for a modification of our zoning in order to accommodate commercial use of the U2 district. Both the university and the city should be very concerned and focused on the overall impact to the city. The success of the city contributes to the success of NU and vice versa. The university should also care deeply about the full impacts to the city and about businesses’ and residents’ needs and balance that with the existing zoning and their interests for a stadium with commercial use. The city and the university both have an obligation to respect and listen to the needs and interests of Evanston residents.”

Krissie Harris, Second Ward

On personal connections or conflicts of interest: “I do not work at NU. I did for 2 summers in 1988 and 1989 (if memory serves me well)  as a summer employee for the residence life clean up team cleaning dorm rooms. I am a Graduate of Illinois State University for my bachelors and masters degrees. I have never taken classes at NU. I only donate alum money to my alma mater ISU.

“I do not have season tickets to any NU games. I have only attended games that I have been invited to.    

“I am a co-chair of the African American Youth Achievement Award created by Delores Holmes and Mary Wilkerson. Northwestern University is one of the many inaugural sponsors. This is not a conflict of interest. This a program that I do not directly benefit from or because of.”

On Northwestern’s desire to host up to 10 full-capacity concerts and the idea of a negotiating a community benefits agreement with the university: “I stand always on the side of making the best decisions for all of our residents. There are many unknowns out there. We are looking for consultants that can help us understand things we don’t know.”

Melissa Wynne, Third Ward

“I am reserving my judgment on the stadium proposal until the economic impact study is completed.”

Jonathan Nieuwsma, Fourth Ward

On personal connections or conflicts of interest: “No on all counts. I have friends who work there or who have worked there.”

On full-capacity concerts and a community benefits agreement: “No further comment at this point. Dave Davis will be at the Fourth Ward meeting next Tuesday so I anticipate some good discussion then.”

Bobby Burns, Fifth Ward

On having any personal connections, doing business with Northwestern or other conflicts of interest: “No.”

On concerts: “I have not taken a position, yet. Out of respect for the dialogue that [Council Member Eleanor] Revelle is having with nearby neighbors, I’ve decided to spend time following those discussions before forming a position.”

On negotiating a community benefits agreement with Northwestern: “Support.”

Thomas Suffredin, Sixth Ward

On personal connections and conflicts of interest: “No ties to Northwestern.”

From his public letter: “Northwestern would get to run this money machine under the shelter of a property tax exemption. Whatever sales taxes ‘could’ flow to the city are pocket change compared to what Evanston public schools, public safety and infrastructure would receive if Northwestern paid the equivalent of property taxes on Ryan Field. Northwestern will try to defuse this issue with ‘coulds’ and invent a ‘community fund’ or one-time payment. That’s not good enough.”

Eleanor Revelle, Seventh Ward

On personal connections and conflicts of interest: “No, I have never worked for Northwestern.

“No, I am not an alum or a donor.

“No, I do not have season tickets for NU football or basketball games.

“My husband has been a professor in the Psychology Department since 1973.

“The fact that he is employed by Northwestern did not keep me from voting against the 2-year pilot for concerts at Welsh Ryan in 2019.”

On concerts: “I am waiting for more complete information about the stadium project and the concerts. I need the results of the City’s independent economic impact analysis as well as our own evaluation of the likely impacts of concert noise and of the university’s transportation management plan.”

On a community benefits agreement: “I have not yet given this any detailed consideration.”

Devon Reid, Eighth Ward

On having any personal connections, doing business with Northwestern or other conflicts of interest: “No.”

On Northwestern hosting full-capacity concerts: “Generally supportive.”

On a community benefits agreement: “I’m supportive.”

Juan Geracaris, Ninth Ward

“I’m an alum, football (and women’s basketball) season ticket holder, and staff at the university.

“Given my employment, I’ve said from the beginning that I’d recuse myself from voting on any issues related [to] Northwestern and have done so at least once in the past. I am not participating in any public discussion of the stadium. I have had many discussions with constituents and will do my best to advocate on their behalf.”

Darlene Cannon, candidate for Second Ward

On having any personal connections, doing business with Northwestern or other conflicts of interest: “No.”

On concerts at the new stadium: “The City of Evanston and Northwestern should meet and discuss their mutual interests regarding the advancement of our community. I’m very concerned about the rezoning and Northwestern asking the city for a commercial license to host 10 full capacity concerts a year.”

On negotiating a community benefits agreement: “According to a 2017 memo from Marty Lyons, former CFO for the City of Evanston, Northwestern owns 330+ acres of land that is untaxed. The Finance and Budget Committee has already unanimously voted to form a sub-committee to look at creating a PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) program that would better address Northwestern paying their fair share.”

Patricia Gregory, candidate for Second Ward

On having any personal connections, doing business with Northwestern or other conflicts of interest: “No.”

On concerts at the new stadium: “As a resident of Evanston, I think it’s important to speak with and hear the voices of the people who it will affect. I think a lot of things should be ironed out with the residents. I support whatever the residents support. As an alderperson, I would talk to the other alderpersons who represent the area impacted and support them, too.”

On a community benefits agreement: “I agree with that. I think that’s really important. To support Evanstonians, I think it’s important for Northwestern to hire people in the city and do their fair contributions to the city.” 

Kathy Hayes, candidate for Ninth Ward

On having any personal connections, doing business with Northwestern or other conflicts of interest: “No.”

On concerts: “The Ryan Field Entertainment Center is a huge opportunity for Evanston. However, the university has a complicated relationship with our residential community. The city needs to get the best deal possible from NU. The details are everything and COE [City of Evanston] must work with NU to make certain our needs and expectations are realized, along with working to hold the university accountable to its’ promises. The Ninth Ward deserves a voice in the process. The Ninth Ward deserves a seat at the table. If any special rezoning amendments are needed for concerts, they should be included in the negotiations.”

On a community benefits agreement: “Northwestern and COE can learn from other universities that have successfully blended private and public collaborations, through benefit agreements. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to negotiate an agreement that will impact generations of Evanston residents for the next 40-60 years. Let me be clear, NU is proposing more than just a stadium. In the agreement, expectations should be clearly defined, and measurable outcomes monitored. With their unique skills, NU can contribute directly to the needs of our residents through projects, pilot programs and donations.”

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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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Manan Bhavnani

Prior to joining the RoundTable, Manan Bhavnani covered business and technology for the International Business Times, with a focus on mergers, earnings and governance. He is a double Medill graduate, with...

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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. Since Juan Geracaris has recused himself (as he should) from any votes concerning NU, his employer, the 9th ward effectively has no voice in these critical issues as long as remains our city council member.

  2. Thank you for this timely survey, and I hope you repeat it once council members’ positions start to move out of vague, vague waters.

  3. An amazing collection of ‘no comments’ couched in political jargon. I’ve had my disagreements with Alderperson Suffredin in the past but on this issue I am in complete agreement with him and applaud his willingness to take a stand. NU cannot seriously think citizens of Evanston would stand for its one-sided proposal. How much is it spending on its massive OR campaign for this?

  4. What I find alarming about this article and the responses of council members, candiates ,and Mayor Biss is that with the exception of 1st ward council member, Clare Kelly, not one person spoke to the important fact that Evanston has a Municipal Code ” The City Code details ordinances that govern all aspects of City operations. It includes sections that establish each of the elected offices, the managerial form of government and the City’s administrative departments. Fees for all City licenses, services and permits are set by the City Code.:

    Or that the city has anEvanston Comprehensive Plan which are the rules and guidelines by which cities operate. The Comprehensive Plan is a document which is not a long document but is a plan which people rely on as stated “The Comprehensive Plan is the official statement of local government policy regarding the physical development of the community.”

    Or that there is Central Street Master Plan:
    The Central Street corridor plan and conceptual streetscape design will be used by the City to help guide development along Central Street. Community residents, leaders, and business/property owners participated in the planning process and gave ideas for improvements and development.

    If we don’t respect and follow our plans, guidelines and rules as set by these documents, and sell out our neighborhoods so that Northwestern can go into the Entertainment Business and become a NU Profit Machine throwing financial crumbs to the city, then we must throw those plans and codes taway so no one has to follow them. Every resident, and non profit should be afforded the same opportunity to turn their properties into money making machines and promise huge benefits and forget about the destruction and devaluation of surrounding properties. Where does it begin and end? Do only the most wealthy institutions get the privilege of not being held to the same standards as individuals?

  5. I have lived on Rosalie street (one block south of the stadium) for 52 years. All I can say is that our life is totally restricted to not leaving our house every football weekend. The noise and traffic is unbearable during those games. Based on that experience I definitely am against any additional concert or non-game events to be held at any new stadium, especially since Northwestern seeks to gain additional profit from these events and we as residents must suffer additional days without any beneficial gains, just inconvences.

  6. COE should receive a FAIR share of ALL income from any activities held within the proposed stadium!

  7. Thank you so much for this timely survey. It is truly enlightening. The only thing I might add is that I wish you had specified in what ward this plan actually sits. I have inferred that it is the seventh ward, but not sure. Thanks. Great reporting.