Evanston city officials recommended a Chicago-based real estate and hospitality consulting firm to conduct an independent study on the potential economic impact of Northwestern’s proposed Ryan Field redevelopment.

If approved by the City Council, Johnson Consulting would receive a $78,500 contract to complete:

  • Evaluation of potential economic impacts generated by the proposed stadium redevelopment
  • Full peer review of Northwestern’s previous economic impact study
  • Market research into the Ryan Field redevelopment proposal and the existing Welsh-Ryan Arena
  • Transportation and parking analysis

Last November, the university released its own study by Pennsylvania-based consulting firm Tripp Umbach. That study estimated construction of a new football stadium could generate more than $100 million for Evanston by 2031, including the proceeds of special events hosted at the stadium.

Northwestern representatives maintain that hosting up to 10 annual, full-capacity stadium concerts is necessary for the project to be “economically feasible.” Concerts would be open to the public. But several Evanston City Council members have said the city should conduct its own study before weighing Northwestern’s zoning and planned development proposals.

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

“While Evanston has 100 years of experience with college football and understands its impact on the community, the city lacks knowledge of arena concert economics, including regional demand for similar facilities and concert goers’ preferences/behaviors, particularly around transportation…,” Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak wrote in a memo to the City Council.

Evanston economic development staff, along with Deputy City Manager Dave Stoneback, considered proposals from seven consultants who bid for the contract. Zalmezak said Johnson Consulting was chosen as the final candidate due to a request for proposal response that demonstrated a thorough understanding of what was expected.

As part of its proposal, the firm included a kickoff meeting and workshop to present its findings and recommendations. It also featured below-average pricing and a minority-owned enterprise as a transportation subcontractor.

The full City Council is expected to vote on the contract during its regular meeting on Monday night, May 8. The study is expected to take about three months, according to a timeline provided to the city by Johnson Consulting.

Zalmezak and his team team also plan to recommend a community engagement consultant to work with the firm.

“The engagement consultant will lead a process to gather input from Central Street businesses, Ryan Field neighbors, 7th Ward community members, and Evanstonians community wide,” according to Zalmezak’s memo. “These meetings should not take place until the significant findings of the Economic Impact Study report are ready for presentation.”

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. This amounts to Northwestern imposing another $80,000 burden on Evanston taxpayers and those in need of services. And then more when we spend the money on the robust community engagement process that Northwestern tried to avoid the first time around.

    How about next time NU wants to alter their real estate they approach the City beforehand, and work out a process that would lead to trust and alignment across all stakeholders.

    An alternative to spending this money is to just say no and let NU work with their existing stadium until such time they are prepared to take the community seriously.

  2. Thank you for reporting on this. I was very interested to learn that once the significant findings of the Economic Impact Study report are ready for presentation, the consultant/City plans to hire an engagement consultant who will gather input from Central Street businesses, Ryan Field neighbors, 7th Ward community members, and Evanstonians community wide. This sounds like they will get the answers that they want first and then give the community lip service with no real input. This seems backward and designed to give the City the answer that Northwestern wants.