In recent weeks, Northwestern officials and a few council members have conveyed a strong impression that the Ryan Field rebuild project has been done in cooperation with surrounding neighborhood residents who served on the Northwestern/Ryan Field Neighbors Stadium Project Working Group.
After one year of meetings, the neighborhood representatives who serve as official members of the Working Group thought RoundTable readers might want to hear directly from us.
In January 2022, Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward council member) and Dave Davis (Northwestern executive director of neighborhood and community relations) created the Northwestern/Ryan Field Neighbors Stadium Project Working Group.
The working group has nine members: four NU representatives with key leadership roles in the stadium rebuild project, four residents from the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium (three from Evanston, one from Wilmette), and the Seventh Ward council member.
As written by Eleanor Revelle, the working group agreed that its purpose was to:
- Provide a setting for NU representatives to share concepts and plans for the stadium project with Ryan Field neighbors, and for Ryan Field neighbors to provide feedback and help to inform those concepts and plans.
- Provide an opportunity for Ryan Field neighbors to raise issues and concerns that residents may have about the project’s plans and construction.
One-year perspective from the resident members
The working group held its first meeting on Feb. 17, 2022, and has met one to two times per month since then. At our first meeting, it was agreed that this would be an informal and transparent way for Northwestern to listen and solicit input from the surrounding community regarding the stadium rebuild project. It would also be a way for Northwestern to share concepts and plans with the resident members, obtain feedback, and consider alternatives. As part of its design process, Northwestern stated it was soliciting input and requests from a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders, and that our working group was a key stakeholder. Northwestern also expressed its hopes that this forum would be the beginning of an effort to rebuild trust with community residents. We have collectively spent hundreds of hours working toward this goal.
Our first assignment was to canvass our stadium neighbors to identify their concerns and requests regarding a new stadium. We solicited and compiled this information, and then presented it to Northwestern at several meetings in March through June. Northwestern indicated that they would take our requests into consideration, but that some may not be feasible. All of us had the impression that there would be an opportunity to engage in follow-up discussions and provide additional input regarding alternative design concepts. That never happened.
Instead, in late summer, we were informed that Northwestern’s architect was already nearly finished with preparing a single stadium design concept. There would be no opportunity to review and provide feedback on alternatives. Meanwhile, we expressed concerns that Northwestern’s plans were not being shared in a timely manner, leaving us unprepared to answer neighbors’ questions. Nevertheless, Northwestern informed us that we would be able to see the design before the general public. That never happened either.
Instead, on Sept. 28, we were surprised to learn of the proposed stadium design from news media reports. The design had been approved by the Northwestern Board of Trustees on Sept. 23, and Northwestern released renderings and plans to the media before sharing with the working group. The news release was accompanied by a professionally scripted, orchestrated media blitz campaign.
Concurrently, Northwestern announced plans to host full-capacity concerts for up to 35,000 attendees and other 10,000-person events at the new stadium. This was another complete surprise to us because we had repeatedly emphasized the neighbors’ request that the use of the stadium not be expanded. NU had never indicated at any of our meetings that it was already designing a multipurpose venue. It intentionally misled us by withholding this information.
Earlier, over the summer, Northwestern had engaged a consultant (Tripp Umbach) to conduct an “Economic and Social Impact Study” for the project. Two resident members of the working group met with the consultant and provided candid feedback regarding “social” concerns in the neighborhood, especially the onerous adverse impact of large events on the community and local businesses. During our meeting with Tripp Umbach, consultants never mentioned that Northwestern was considering concerts and numerous other types of large events – even though they already secretly knew that it was a key component of their analysis. The consultant stated to us that our neighborhood “social” concerns would be included in their assessment and recommendations. That never happened either.
Instead, we later learned that the report would focus exclusively on economic impacts. Community concerns were eventually mentioned in the report, but only as an afterthought in a placative cursory manner after we repeatedly requested that it be included, as promised.
In public settings, Northwestern tries to convey an impression that they worked cooperatively and successfully with neighborhood representatives on the working group to address community concerns. Unfortunately, although Northwestern initially seemed sincerely interested in listening to residents, it became abundantly clear that it would do whatever it wanted without serious regard of community feedback. It ignored almost all of the neighbors’ input. (Click here for a more detailed description of our requests and Northwestern’s responses.) Its promotion of concerts and other events has been especially misleading, as we had steadfastly and repeatedly informed the university that our data indicated the vast majority of stadium neighbors opposed such events. Any suggestion by Northwestern to the contrary is misleading and totally false.
In summary, our hopes for the working group were disappointed as Northwestern repeatedly concealed information and misled us, and it ignored most of the community input we gathered at its request. A truly interactive and cooperative approach could have been a hugely positive step forward for community-Northwestern relations. Although we have genuinely tried to work together with Northwestern in a respectful manner on behalf of residents, after a year we must conclude that Northwestern viewed the working group as a fig leaf to deflect criticism and hide its true intentions, and that our good faith was not met with similar good faith by Northwestern.
Evanston representatives on the Stadium Project Working Group
Various citizen groups have tired to work with Northwestern on its propesed rebuild but it seems that the univeristy has its own ideas as to how it is going to proceed. At least the city has now agreed to engage a consultant to evaluate the proposal though the cost of $100,000 should be paid by the university and not by city residents. Though I have read the various communications from the univeristy I am unable to find any realiable informtion as to the actual cost and the financing of the facility andmore imporatantly the ongoing costs to the city. tThe university claims that no public money will be used but nowhere is it clear as to what the university plans to spend now and in the future nor the financing of the cost. In addtion, the supposed benefits in taxes etc that might accrue to the city are speculative at best as tthere is no real plan understanding or commtment other than a general hope that things will work out and the city will benefit. a hope and a prayer are not a plan!
Yes to a new stadium for football no to an educational institution entering the mega musical concert for profit industry. The people in favor of this apparently cannot imagine a world in which 35,000 people descend upon Evanston in 15,000 or so vehicles almost every summer weekend and then depart at 11 pm drunk and ready to rock and roll. No comparison to Ravinia or Space. What about the ability to get through to the hospital? Northwestern itself hasn’t fully thought through these issues or maybe that is why they want summer concerts- at a time that won’t impact their students just the citizens across Evanston.
I support the plans for Ryan Field, as a young member of this community, the new construction will provide a great venue to build memories with my family. The current stadium is old and lacks charm – its time to advance the setting into the future.
I live in the 7th ward, and I am in favor of the stadium. It’s a generational opportunity and my hope is that Northwestern & Evanston do reach a fair agreement on either sides.
It’s possible to be dissatisfied with the current proposal and also want the progress of the new stadium & community benefits it could bring.
Things like a PILOT, more community events, etc, need to come to the negotiating table.
Something rarely mentioned in these public discussions is that the proposed expansion of Northwestern’s Ryan sports and now entertainment complex on Central Street is unique among the 14 schools in the Big Ten in that it is right in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Most stadiums in the Big Ten are in the middle of their campus, and a few – Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin, have largely student housing along one side of the stadium. There’s a reason these stadiums and arena are in the middle of the other schools, and that’s because their very use is incompatible with a suburban residential experience, and they want easy access for their students and staff. So, one might just as well conclude that as the Ryan entertainment complex grows, more housing in the area will be converted to student housing. I sincerely do not wish that fate on my neighbors.
Whatever the impacts of the new stadium and concerts, Evanston needs to use this as a signal moment to require Northwestern to start making payments in lieu of taxes in some fashion. Focusing just on the sports complex, let’s recognize the increasingly big business nature of the enterprise. Northwestern reportedly pays football coach Fitzgerald $5.7 million annually and men’s basketball coach Chris Collins at least $1.4 million. It receives many millions of dollars annually for broadcast rights for its football and basketball games, and it is now proposing to hold for-profit events at both Welsh-Ryan and Ryan stadiums. Why then should Northwestern not make payments in lieu of property taxes for at least its sports complex property, at least as a start towards a larger payment? Let’s call a spade a spade and require reasonable compensation in return for giving NU those zoning variances and other approvals it apparently so desperately needs.
I live a block and a half from the stadium complex.
It is about 10 to 1 in favor of the new build among my neighbors.
NU has been a good neighbor and I expect that to continue.
Since September, the community has been hearing from Northwestern’s representatives on the Stadium Working Group through its multi-pronged marketing campaign, presentations at ward meetings, churches, etc., and through its mailers, paid canvassers, push surveys, office hours at Welsh-Ryan Arena, etc. Along the way, NU has suggested that neighborhood representatives on the Working Group were supportive of NU’s plans.
Meanwhile, for the past six months since NU’s plans were released, the neighborhood representatives on the Working Group have been silent. Naturally, some neighbors inquired and asked for more information about what happened at these Working Group meetings. In the words of Lin Manuel Miranda, they said:
“We never really know what got discussed
Click boom! Then it happened
But no one else was in the room where it happened”
Well… for the past year, we were “in the room where it happened” at the same table with Northwestern for many meetings. We decided that it was time to write a report to share the facts on what actually occurred as we attempted to serve in our role as neighborhood representatives. (We’re not just three people, but represented many others in the surrounding community.) In the table portion of our report, we shared neighborhood requests based on our survey results a year ago, and NU’s subsequent responses. We also shared potentially contentious information and facts that Northwestern consistently omits from its PR materials.
We realize that the level of support vs opposition runs the gamut, and that you may or may not like the conclusions in our report. That’s fine, but there is unanimous agreement among neighborhood folks who were in the room. At the first several meetings, we naively assumed that the forum would be collaborative, transparent, genuine, and positive. It became increasingly frustrating as NU repeatedly misled us, surprised us, was not responsive, and withheld key information.
Lastly, the “yard sign battle” may not be a reliable barometer of support for/against the proposed project. In my area east of the stadium, 86% of the signs are opposed. (Yes, I counted them.) However, I know of others who support or oppose the project, but choose not to display a sign. That’s fine too. Whether we agree or not, I trust we can still treat each other with civility and respect.
It comes as no surprise that people who have long criticized Northwestern for its tax-exempt status will dig deep for more proof of the University’s evil intent.
What about the tens of thousands of Evanston residents, workers, investors, business owners and alumni who are thrilled at the prospect of a world-class stadium keeping football (and all of its economic benefits) in Evanston for the next 100 years?
Oh, three unhappy people want to vilify the University while ignoring thousands of pro-stadium folks.
Who’s the bully in this drama?
Poor, poor Northwestern. What a crock. Are you on their payroll or something? Because I’d hate to think you’re constantly polluting these discussion threads with this much BS for free.
Bruce Emory, your cynical post attacking Mr Orenstein does nothing to promote your cause, whatever that might be.
There’s nothing more cynical than calling the middle-class homeowners concerned about the quality of life in the neighborhood they live in the “bullies” in a conflict with an economic behemoth sitting on most of the prime real estate (and a 15 billion dollar slush fund) in the community they share.
The definition of “cynical” is
1. believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
Mr Emory’s post directed at Mr Orenstein is a great example of cynicism when he ask Mr Orenstein “Are you on their (NU’s) payroll or something?….”
I’ve got thousands of people on my side. Who is on yours?
Your shrill continuous rage embarrasses Evanston. Who pays you to tear down our city?
Are you going to come up with $800 million to produce jobs and economic benefits for the North Shore by attacking me? Great strategy. Good luck with that.
The anti-zoning change letters here out number your side’s by about five to one, so I’m not the only one opposed this transparent swindle, my friend. And “tearing down our city?” You’re the one who supports detroying an entire neighborhood based on the promise of “jobs and economic development” that will almost certainly turn out to be entirely illusory.
Excellent letter from the Stadium Project Working Group that reflects the unfortunate realities many of us feared lay behind Northwestern’s push for this new stadium. Thank you!
Judy, Ken, Robert:
I want to offer both my thanks and an apology. First, I’d like to thank you for serving on the Stadium Project Working Group at the request of Ald. Revelle and Northwestern. You’ve given a great deal of time over this past year and I hope all across Evanston and Wilmette appreciate your efforts. I certainly do.
Secondly, I’m sorry to have missed your canvass of stadium neighbors. It would seem – from your “summary of requests by resident members” – that there is unanimity among neighbors about stadium design, usage and alterations to NU’s athletic campus. Nonesuch is true, of course, but had you the benefit of strongly differing points-of-view, perhaps the requests put forward would have been more balanced, framed on the ‘possible’ rather than the ‘prohibited’ and ultimately produced a more satisfying result.
I’m perplexed as to why your essay doesn’t celebrate your numerous wins (open-air design, footprint, capacity, lighting, exterior aesthetics, no garage, etc.). Hard to imagine all this happens without your direct involvement so it’s odd you’re not taking a deserved victory lap unless one sees the only acceptable outcome as 100% capitulation by Northwestern. Whatever the case, the “fig leaf” description just doesn’t fit.
Let’s not forget that NU’s athletic campus has been under nearly continuous renovation over the past two decades with new baseball and softball fields, a complete rebuild of Welsh-Ryan arena and a new, beautiful and eco-friendly West parking lot – used as much by Evanston Hospital as NU – that also brought Eastwood residents a paved alley, improved drainage and security. From Central to Ashland to Isabella, the streetscapes are more attractive and the grounds more accessible and inviting. Adjoining property values are enhanced not hurt.
So, big picture, a new Ryan Field should be seen as the capstone of a multi-decade re-do that has been competently managed to the great benefit of our community. Results to date should inspire confidence and, with it, an open-mindedness to what’s possible ahead of what’s problematic.
Thanks for this information and assessment. I, in my endeavors with a community related project, found Northwestern University, in particular it’s Community Relations Department, to be inept and unresponsive to my requests for involvement. Not even the courteous of a response to my multiple attempts to reach out to them. I proceeded WITHOUT them!
Judy, Ken and Robert.
Thank you for your time. The question I have is what input did you three seemingly self appointed individuals get from your actual neighbors. Were you elected? Who appointed you?
On Rosalie the yard sign battle is about 50/50 FYI. I don’t recall being invited to a meeting to discuss the project that your committee hosted. The real fig leaf here is this “committee” made up of people that claim to represent the neighborhood when all they do is represent the views of a vocal minority. The same minority that has saved Harley Clarke(not), opposed Robert Crown and canceled the wonderful music at canal shores. Thinking you’re going to get Northwestern to pay taxes is crazy and a waste of time and resources. This committee and more importantly our council members should engage in thoughtful negotiations to get as much community benefit out of this generational project as possible. If your goal is to simply stop the project you are helping no one but your small group of NU haters. If you win in stopping this time NU will likely do a dressed down remodel with ZERO community benefit someday. Why would you want that? A few concerts a year and the occasional community festival isn’t so bad. Maybe you’d meet new people and make new friends. It’s okay to have fun. It really is. But most importantly let’s get something out of this deal instead of the win your committee so desires.
Raju – Are the people opposed to or dubious of the Ryan Field plan a “small group of NU haters”? I wonder if statements like that are (a) accurate or (b) helpful. More than 1,100 people have signed the petition in opposition to the plan. (https://www.change.org/p/evanston-city-officials-don-t-rubber-stamp-northwestern-s-field-of-schemes.) These signatures came without the benefit of paid canvassers, such as NU has used.
Are all 1,100+ of this “small group” of people “NU haters”?
I think what’s important is that all voices be heard and that we tolerate a diversity of opinion. Your voice is important, as are Judy’s and Ken’s and Robert’s. Surely, Northwestern doesn’t have a problem with the community being heard. And surely, with its resources, consultants, websites, videos, polls etc., no one could deny their message is being heard.
Northwestern has shown its true intentions. It does not intend to be a good citizen of Evanston, and the City Council should recognize this. The City Council should not grant the requested zoning variances to Northwestern.
And to those who penned this essay I counter that to my knowledge nobody who lives near the stadium and is pro rebuild was asked to be a part of this working group! Eleanor did not reach out to us; no one canvassed our Ashland / Colfax neighbors that I know of. Per the working board notes, Judy Berg represented neighbors south of Lincoln. How she was selected to represent us is astounding and puzzling! Many of my neighbors have written to Eleanor and expressed support of this project. We were not represented in this working group!
There are those in our community, including close neighbors, who think of us vocal opponents of NU’s unbridled entertainment vortex, as spoilsports, naïve, NIMBY’s, barriers to “progress” (however that’s defined), etc. But I challenge anyone who supports NU’s commercial vision, which has nothing to do with education, to argue that Northwestern has been open, transparent, or honest in its dealings.
This working group letter confirms what has been painfully obvious since NU launched its fevered stadium pitch: that it will stoop to anything, and stop at nothing, to get what it wants, anyone or anything standing in its way be damned.
It is painful to see. Northwestern has been a big part of my life since my father became a neurosciences professor there in 1959. Because of NU I had a fascinating childhood and teen years. The Cherub program consolidated my interest in journalism. My five years working at Kellogg exposed me to brilliant professors, gifted students, and the incomparable Dean Jacobs.
The university, which literally was family, in its brazen, disingenuous, and unethical campaign, has committed a grotesque breach of trust. All the more shocking, this was its deliberate, carefully planned strategy from the outset. All that matters to modern-day Northwestern is winning, imposing its will, having its way. Nothing else, and no one else, counts. We are simply in the way and must be cajoled, hoodwinked, deceived, swept aside, and disenfranchised.
I can think of dozens of people—NU professors and administrators—who inhabited my life growing up, and who today would be utterly and thoroughly disgusted.
NU hopes to steamroll a plan that will thrill its elites–wealthy trustees and major donors—no matter the cost to the rest of us. Failing to recognize those costs—of a ruined neighborhood, of unknown expenses to the city, and of the inevitable broken promises, of which NU leaves a trail—is overshadowed by the greatest cost. That, to my mind, is shattered trust and a loss of reputation for a university that should know better, do better, and be better.
President Schill, Trustee Chairman Barris, Ryan family, the onus is on you to prove that you are other than what this “transformational” project has so far has shown you to be.
I would not count on the Ryan family to help. They already tipped their hand when two related individuals, one that works for a Ryan organization at Northwestern and a daughter-in-law from NYC dropped $6,000 each into alderperson Krissie Harris’ 2nd Ward Campaign fund (since returned after some local outcry). You are correct…they will stop at nothing to get what they want.
Judy, Ken, and Robert, thank you for volunteering so much of your time on behalf of your neighbors and community. Like you, I’m disappointed in the outcome and in Northwestern’s apparent bad faith.
Thank you also for your transparency in reporting on both the process and the results. It starkly contrasts with Northwestern’s lack of transparency, as evidenced (for example) by its ongoing refusal to make public the market studies relied upon by Tripp Umbach or the methodology for Northwestern’s public opinion poll.
Northwestern’s representations about the proposed stadium project have been misleading from the outset. Whether it’s overlaying an elevation of the new stadium over Notre Dame’s instead of the current Ryan Field, glossy mailers of a Christkindlmarket with an inexplicable view of the lake, or representing TV-friendly design features (the reduced seating capacity and partial canopy) as somehow motivated by neighborhood concerns, the constant half-truths and misdirects seem to never cease.
Northwestern’s handling of this opportunity to engage with the community demonstrates an attitude of contempt and a total lack of respect.
This powerful and disturbing essay is another example of why, in the words of Councilman Suffredin, “Northwestern needs to go back to the drawing board – and come back when they’re serious.” And this process must include REAL community engagement and thorough, objective review of every aspect of Northwestern’s demands to turn north Evanston and south Wilmette into Wrigleyville. Ten open-air concerts a year with 28,000 attendees – and that’s just for starters! – plus unlimited 10,000-person events featuring professional sports and entertainment, would radically change the environment for thousands of residents, plus schools, small businesses and churches – and not for the better.
I am so psyched for this new stadium and all that it will bring to Evanston! Let’s build it and let’s bring the music!
Party on, Garth.
Thank you for the many hours of service you devoted to this committee. Can you expand on where Eleanor Revelle stands on this-based on my reading of your letter, shouldn’t she have been responsible for making sure the resident committee voices were heard. It pretty clear that Dave Davis et al have gotten what they wanted.
I do believe many elements of the design did take into account neighbor concerns: smaller stadium, light and sound issues to keep both directed into stadium, green space around the stadium, lower silhouette of stadium, contained areas for trucks, ADA priorities, etc. It is nor feasible for Northwestern to do everything the neighbors want. Lest we forget, these games are not going away. They will outlive us all. I don’t see how an old stadium benefits the neighborhood. The concerts that would be there would be an amenity residents could enjoy- however I never hear that side. I just hear about loud drunk hooligans. I don’t see that at Ravinia, Out of Space, United Center or ….most venues I go to. People head home. This alternate reality is perpetuated by the anti-stadium crowd. There are not that many warm weather months and there are more venues than ever. I don’t see that there will be more than a handful of shows given the overbuilt Chicago market. Let’s move forward and welcome a private investment in the city.
I encourage you to review the detailed description of the Working Group’s requests and Northwestern’s responses that is linked in the letter for an explanation of how Northwestern has misrepresented many of those design elements and why most of them are not responsive to the neighborhood’s concerns.
Have you been to Wrigley Field (capacity ~41,000)? It’s a much more suitable reference than Out of Space (~3,500), Ravinia (~14,000), or the United Center (~23,500 and enclosed). A major part of the concern is that it will take a lot of time for 10,000 to 35,000 people to get to and from Ryan Field using the narrow residential streets that surround it; traffic and parking are already a huge headache for existing events. And Northwestern isn’t proposing a “handful” of shows—their proposed rezoning would allow unlimited 10,000-person for-profit events (including “musical performances”) and 10 stadium-capacity concerts.