While Northwestern University’s proposal to rebuild its Ryan Field stadium is still in the planning phase, more than 40 people gathered Wednesday, April 5, to discuss the project at in a room at the university’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Amid concerns and questions, several neighbors showed their support for the rebuild, an $800 million project to be managed by a partnership of Turner Construction and Walsh Construction.

Chris Hale, a principal at Perkins and Will, presents a rendering of the proposed new Ryan Field at Wednesday’s meeting. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

“I thought it was fantastic. I loved the renderings of what it’s gonna look like,” said Howard Gartzman, a resident of the Seventh Ward, where the stadium is located.

Design concepts presented by the firms included reduced seating capacity, a more “intimate” and lowered play field, as well as a canopy to reduce the facility’s noise and light impact.

“We’ve rotated the stadium and the field 25 degrees to the south. What that allows us to do is create a plaza of amenities around the stadium,” said Chris Hale, a principal at Perkins and Will.

The university’s proposal for the new stadium, which includes plans for up to 10 for-profit concerts a year, will require a zoning change and City Council approval. The project is currently in limbo while the city conducts its own economic impact study.

The stated goal of the Wednesday meeting was to bring neighbors and people from the business community together to talk over the rebuild and explore partnership opportunities with vendors.

Dave Davis, executive director of neighborhood and community relations, opens the presentation Wednesday morning. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

“My hope is that we’ll be able to spend more time together, and spend money with some of the individuals in this room,” said Dave Davis, executive director of neighborhood and community relations at Northwestern.

The university has set a target that 35% of its subcontracting spending on the project will be with local minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and Wednesday’s meeting served as a launching pad for those conversations.

“It’s an ambitious goal and we can’t do it alone. Every business has an opportunity to qualify for these programs,” Davis said.

With the proposed stadium rebuild being a hot-button issue, a key question has been Northwestern’s relationship with the community.

Pamyla Fountain Brown, director of community and citizenship at Turner Construction, speaks at the Wednesday meeting. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

“We definitely want to make certain that we are being accountable to the folks here in Evanston. Local participation is important,” said Pamyla Fountain Brown, director of community and citizenship at Turner Construction.

Residents at the meeting also asked about the project timeline and the site’s impact on local businesses.

Kelly Marcelle, a Seventh Ward neighbor, poses a question at the Wednesday meeting. Credit: Manan Bhavnani

“My biggest concern is that it won’t get going on time. I would like to see this project happen,” said Kelly Marcelle, a longtime Seventh Ward resident.

The university’s timeline for the stadium rebuild calls for demolition to begin following the fall 2023 football season, with construction to be completed by summer 2026 and the new Ryan Field reopening in time for the 2026 football season.

As for the impact on nearby businesses, “we’re still working with the community to understand what that programming’s going to look like, what type of activities we want there,” said Luke Figora, vice president of operations at NU.

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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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  1. I am so impressed with the design process and these new renderings reveal what a fantastic asset this new arena will be for the city of Evanston. I am so thankful for the presence of Northwestern University here in Evanston as it significantly enhances the cultural, social and financial wellbeing of the city. I am also thankful to the Ryan family for this incredibly generous gift that will enable the construction of a new arena that will last for generations. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Now let’s build this arena and get it properly permitted to host both the musical and sporting events that will guarantee its’ success!

    1. I would love to see NU build the stadium and host concerts as currently permitted in the zoning. Let’s have NU prove to the community that they can be the good neighbor they claim to be and manage traffic, safety, garbage, drunk drivers, etc. at 10,000 people before we open the flood gates and allow 35,000 into the neighborhood. Oh and some PILOT dollars to city and schools to go along with the construction permit would be great too.

  2. One might conclude from this article that Seventh Ward residents are all in on this project. I think not. Northwestern, which does not pay any property taxes on its considerable land holdings, is attempting to push through this ill-advised project at the expense of residents who do pay property taxes. Further, it has the gall to claim it needs concerts and other disruptive events to help underwrite the obscene amounts of money to build a new stadium.

    1. Apart from the appealing design, which should be Platinum LEED, not Gold, and the nice plaza out front in a town with 76 existing Parks, what they’re really building is United Center 2.0. They are, in fact, so anxious to build a new “United
      Center +” sized venue for concerts and say it’s needed to make a Big Ten football program sustainable, that they’ve walked away from traditional, beloved student events. The lack of support for long-standing university/student focused events is suspicious. The lack of utilization of spaces and options for holding events that are already approved in the current zoning code, also suspicious.

      They aren’t asking for a couple of minor changes, they’re asking for carte blanche and are annoyed that they have to explain why or share their real plans.
      If the non-profit mission is to support its student body, there’s a lot of work to be done. Read the articles in the Daily NU written by students in the know. Don’t fall for the PR pitch. No funding for Dillo Day from an institution with a $16B endowment? Begs the question, what exactly are their priorities if not supporting student events.

      It’s totally fine to build a new stadium. That stadium should benefit the student body paying exorbitant tuition. It should also be targeted to improving the football program ( according to NU, they don’t plan on the team improving). The neighbors pushing for clarification of economic and social impact aren’t saying no stadium. We’re saying, be honest, be transparent, be mindful of their relationship and responsibility to the space they occupy. Be as concerned about their neighborhood as Mr.Barris is about protecting his $24M vacation home. And show sincerity in what the endgame really is here…because it’s not football.

      1. Im my opinion, it shouldn’t be any LEED certification, it should be EPA Star.

        LEED is based on designs only, whereas EPA Star ratings are based on the actual energy consumption of the building.

      2. I fully agree Liz. If NU wants a new stadium for its six football games, that’s one thing. If it wants an entertainment
        complex that would be a bigger enterprise than football, that is another thing completely. The city has every right to see a comprehensive proposal with all agreements down on paper before agreeing to anything. It’s hard to believe there is support for an undefined concept.