Earlier this month, Northwestern University officially submitted its planned development application, along with revisions to its zoning amendment application, for the construction of a new Ryan Field football stadium.

Since Northwestern announced a major gift from the Ryan family for the stadium redevelopment, neighbors in the city’s Seventh Ward have raised concerns about the university’s desire to host up to 10 full-capacity, “public-facing” concerts per year. But school officials have maintained throughout the process that concerts are necessary to make the project financially feasible.

A rendering of the new Ryan Field stadium, looking northeast from Central Street and Ashland Avenue. Credit: Perkins&Will

In its updated request for zoning changes published online just a few days ago, the university said that it “has committed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Evanston prior to the first concert to address operational issues that are outside of the purview of zoning.”

The MOU would include the following measures, according to Northwestern’s application with the city:

  • Terms outlining requirements for Northwestern to reimburse the city for event-day services, like police and fire personnel
  • “Specific” security, traffic and sustainability plans
  • Regular updates to a concert traffic management plan, detailing necessary street closures or areas blocked off to vehicle traffic
  • The formation of a new “Community Advisory Council” that will “serve as a conduit for community input”
  • Permit parking for residential streets on concert days available to neighborhood residents only

Most of the remaining zoning amendment application remained the same as last reported by the RoundTable in February. Northwestern is still asking for the ability to host 10 concerts a year at the new Ryan Field, with a proposed full capacity of 28,500. Plus, the university is seeking approval for 7,500-person indoor or outdoor events “intended primarily to allow for the use of the new Ryan Field plazas by the community,” though those events could only be held outside for up to 60 days a year.

One major change in the updated application was the proposed allowable time range for concerts to take place on Fridays, Saturdays and “days preceding national holidays and legal school holidays.” Originally, Northwestern wanted permission for concerts to go up to 11 p.m. on those days, but the revised proposal now asks for weekend concerts to end by 10:15 p.m.

Traffic, noise, landscaping

As part of its planned development application, the university included studies that it had commissioned on sound pollution from concerts and football games, traffic management in the neighborhood during events and landscaping.

The sound analysis, conducted by acoustics engineering firm Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams, found that concert noise up to 75 decibels will mainly be directed to the north and west of the stadium, as shown in the graphic below. For context, a typical conversation or a busy street are normally about 65 decibels while an ambulance with its siren on would be 120 decibels.

Expected sound levels produced by a potential concert at the new Ryan Field, without any additional mitigations or sound barriers put in place. Credit: Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams, Inc.

The firm ultimately recommended limiting concert noise levels to a certain decibel unit within the stadium itself, installing sound monitoring devices throughout the stadium and surrounding area and limiting concerts to certain days/times, preferably weekends and earlier in the evening.

“We think the design of the new Ryan Field, and reduction in capacity of stadium, will be helpful in reducing sound impact when compared to the current stadium design,” the study concluded. “However, as with football game days, concerts will generate sound – there is no way to reduce it to zero. Northwestern and the City will need to work together to weigh the impact of sound generated by a limited number of concerts, versus the social and economic benefits of those same concerts.”

Meanwhile, the traffic management plan, put together by Kimley-Horn, made the following suggestions for concert-day management:

  • Restricting parking on both sides of Central Street, from Poplar Avenue to Bryant Avenue, to short-term drop-offs and pick-ups
  • Temporarily making Ashland Avenue a one-way street, northbound only from Central Street to Isabella Street and restricting on-street parking on Ashland from Lincoln Street to Isabella
  • Police traffic control of nine different intersections along Central, Isabella and Green Bay Road

The university’s landscaping plan for the demolition of the existing stadium also includes the removal of 121 trees, amounting to 908.5 total caliper inches. Caliper size refers to the diameter measurement of a tree trunk, taken about six inches above the ground or from the base of the tree where the roots connect to the trunk.

The development blueprints account for planting 794 caliper inches of new trees on the site, so Northwestern will owe the city about $17,000 to make up for the difference, according to the landscaping plan submitted to Evanston.

“Following construction, the Community Advisory Council will meet to discuss
stadium operations, review traffic management and security plan updates and disseminate information to the community,” the university wrote in a project summary. “The council will include members appointed by the 7th Ward council member, Northwestern staff and city staff, and its composition and charge will be detailed in the MOU with the City.”

This story has been updated to remove language that incorrectly stated the university’s latest filing was the first time it had proposed an MOU.

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. Evanstonians: please don’t become your own worst enemies by supporting NW’s blatantly entitled plan to generate huge profits in perpetuity from a dangerously disruptive sports-entertainment complex while maintaining the fiction and benefits of a non profit institution. Has NW hypnotized us into turning a blind eye to its disingenuous juggernaut?

    I am heartened to see so many reasoned, articulate, cogent, and forceful arguments on this platform against the entire Ryan Field business enterprise and proposed rezoning.

  2. Since the University is now committed to negotiations regarding Ryan Field, here is what I have heard presented at several meetings with neighbors and friends from Evanston. Northwestern should turn the Ryan Field stadium operation into a separate LLC since it will be a money-generating entity and can no longer be justified under their 501c3 status as a non-profit. For Northwestern to say that they need to have profit-generating revenue from additional events and concerts there to pay for the project is disingenuous and quite coercive. Here’s why I say that: The University has been extremely successful over the years in raising money for new buildings. If the Ryan family has not singly given enough to pay off the new Ryan Field, then wait until additional money can be raised either from their investments or other donors. Additionally, Northwestern has not explained when the construction costs are actually paid off, what is the justification for the additional revenue-generating events. Do the zoning changes remain in perpetuity? For what reason? Here’s where the idea to form an LLC presents itself. The University cannot justify generating income in this manner since it is a non-profit institution; therefore, the stadium operation should be separated from it as an LLC. Here is a partial explanation of an LLC from Legal Zoom, Edward A. Haman, Esq.: “an LLC has a choice as to how it will be taxed. Unless certain forms are filed with the Internal Revenue Service, a single-member LLC will be taxed as a sole proprietorship, and an LLC with two or more members will be taxed as a partnership. Both single-member and multi-member LLCs can choose to be taxed as a corporation by filing the appropriate form with the IRS. A choice can also be made to be taxed as either a C corporation or an S corporation.” Certainly, the Ryans’ and Northwestern’s lawyers know how to form this entity. However, in lieu of this, Northwestern should stop the charade that they cannot afford to rebuild this structure without major zoning changes. Everyone accepts that the stadium needs a rebuild or at least major renovations, but even Northwestern has now come to realize that negotiations are required with the community and hopefully it no longer agrees with their own Assistant Vice President of Communications Jon Yates when he was quoted in February saying the University has “no current plans to move forward with the stadium redevelopment unless the University can obtain these entitlements.” (ref: February 26, 2023, Daily Northwestern)

    1. What I find interesting is that both state and private universities have been hosting stadium concerts since the 1970’s. During their most recent tour, The Rolling Stones played on several campuses: U of Minnesota, Georgia Tech and NC State. Taylor Swift has played at LSU. Notre Dame has recently hosted Garth Brooks and Billy Joel at ND stadium, and suggests they plan more concerts.

      It would seem to me that if 5013c status of a University was to be challenged because of hosting popular concerts, it might have been done in the last 50 years.

      Before the objection that “none of these stadiums affects a residential area,” please see the enclosed campus map for Notre Dame. Note the location of the football stadium, where they also host concerts, surrounded by parking lots, and facing Angelo Blvd. The area along Angelo Blvd. and Eddy Blvd. is substantially residential with newer and more vintage neighborhoods. Interestingly, the expensive new residential area with closest proximity to the stadium turns out to be a a sought after neighborhood.

      Yes, universities can host concerts in their stadiums in close proximity to residential areas. It’s done.


      1. The Notre Dame stadium is not surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods. It is surrounded primarily by university buildings and parking lots.

  3. No one, not even the Ryans, are focusing on how to improve the football team. Building this new stadium has nothing to do with building a better football team. It will simply be a building where the team will continue to lose games, and that is a edifice to the ego of the Ryans. Trying to turn it into a mega-entertainment center is a bad idea for everyone, including Northwestern. Northwestern and the Ryans would do well to consider an alternative: make $100M in improvements to the existing stadium and use the rest to fund football team improvements, including recruiting, scholarships, coaching, on-going annual endowment, and so forth. Northwestern football will never come close to generating the revenue that Nebraska and other Big Ten schools generate. Step back, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan and reassess how this will help the football program. If you face the facts, it won’t.

  4. Northwestern is playing Us All for fools. This is a disgrace to Evanston into their relationship with the city. They do not need to put an arena in the middle of a quiet neighborhood and have every weekend packed with thousands of people and cars, disrupting traffic making it hard to get to the hospital and making it hard for emergency vehicles. If this was such a great idea to put a large arena in the middle of a quiet neighborhood and have rock concerts there every weekend. It shows a total disregard for people and that they are simply interested in further building their endowment at the expense of everyone else. We will stop this

  5. NU is asking for two separate major projects. One is a new football stadium. The other is a major entertainment center. The only thing linking them is the university’s questionable assertion that it needs the concert revenue to make the football project work. If they insist on linking the two, then I think it only fair that all the details for both be nailed down before allowing either to move ahead.

    To my mind that would mean legally enforceable agreements (as opposed to a “Memorandum of Understanding”) on all aspects of the entertainment center before the first shovel of dirt is turned.

    We’ve yet to see the numbers that make the case for needing the concerts in order to make the football project financing work. Without that linkage, this venture could be divided into two parts–football first, concerts second.
    That would allow two completely separate sets of decisions by the city on two different timetables, about whether or not to proceed. What’s the rush?

  6. Can we just address the noise component of this study? Illinois Pollution Control Board has specific decibel and frequency limitations for daytime and nighttime sound transfer between properties.

    Please look at the map that NU’s paid consultant put together. Based on current design with the stadium overhang, all the sound will be projected north into the neighborhoods. Also at levels that exceed the IPCB restrictions.

    For reference, typical conversation is around 60 dB and a motorcycle running is 95 dB. Anything over 70 dB for a prolonged period may start damaging hearing.

  7. NU is no longer seeking to be a nonprofit institution. With these zoning change requests they are indicating that they are motivated by nothing less than maximizing their profits. They are not a part of Evanston. They want to control Evanston. They care nothing for the neighborhood nor the residents. As the head of the NU trustees wrote in defense of his summer residence. Such changes will destroy the essential nature of the neighborhood and town. The rezoning request must be refused and poor NU needs to learn to live with its mere $16,000,000,000 endowment. Yes, folks that’s BILLIONS.

  8. It is appalling that a supposedly “elite” educational institution that aspires to be seen as an equal to Ivy League universities would allow its football program (which often draws more visiting fans than its own) to further damage an already terrible relationship with its Evanston neighbors. The assertion that concerts are a financial necessity for the project is a bald faced lie: NU will take the Ryan money and build the new stadium with or without concerts. NU manages to pay the head coach $6,000,000 a year, and generously compensate numerous assistant coaches, trainers, etc., from the millions in revenue generated by unpaid labor (the players) and TV contracts. Any money from concerts would be a pittance by comparison.

  9. Correction: the proposed MOU with the City was in the original zoning change amendment application. An MOU with the City is completely inadequate to address community concerns—concerns shared by many people throughout Evanston and the surrounding communities, not just Seventh Ward neighbors. The proposed MOU would remove many of the protections that are currently in the zoning code and put a watered-down version of some of them in a separate agreement which community members will not be able to enforce.

    If NU is serious about addressing community concerns with its proposed rebuild, it should come to the table to negotiate a community benefits agreement (CBA) that will guarantee benefits for the community and hold NU accountable for its (currently empty) promises, like its “target” for local and minority hiring. The City Council should not entertain NU’s application for a planned development until it comes to the table.

    Moreover, NU’s proposed zoning changes are not necessary for the rebuild and the City Council should simply reject them. If NU can’t afford to rebuild its stadium without commercializing it, the community should not have to bear the cost through externalities. It’s absurd that an institution as wealthy as NU is still making vague “feasibility” claims. Broadcast rights for football games ALONE will soon bring $80 to $100 million annually to the university, and its head coach makes more than $5.7 million a year. In contrast, NU’s own consultant estimates that tax revenues to the City from ALL economic activity connected with football (ticket sales, retail, restaurants, bars, hotel, transportation, etc.) is $230,000 a year. Yet we’re expected to believe stadium concerts (whose attendees will not be driving in from out of state like opposing fans) are going to generate more than ten times that amount? Please. Meanwhile, NU’s $1 million/year “Good Neighbor” earmark “fund” expired years ago, and it doesn’t pay its fair share toward our public schools.

    The sound and traffic reports suffer from serious methodological flaws. For example, the sound review only did “spot” measurements in the neighborhood during a game day (and didn’t test amplified music at all). The traffic report repeats NU’s misrepresentation that reducing seats will reduce traffic, which ignores the fact that NU’s typical football game attendance is something like 25,000 people.

    The constant misinformation is exhausting—eNoUgh!

  10. First, I would say that it should not just be Ward 7 residents who are expressing concerns. All of Evanston should care about extensive zoning changes, congestion of main arteries to 2 fire stations and 1 hospital, and the “enough money you get your way” attitude which does not constitute negotiating. Everyone should also care about this non-taxing paying, major land-holder gaining supporters with side deals, apparently unable to spend within their budget, and not too concerned about being a respectful neighbor. For a city that has always had noise abatement ordinances, finally eliminated gas powered leaf blowers to eliminate noise and air pollution and has had a climate initiative in place for years to become carbon neutral, plopping another United Center (actually larger) into a residential neighborhood seems pretty obviously off brand.
    Other items to consider:
    1.”reimbursing the city for services”- how is that a negotiation point? That should have been a given from the start.
    2. cutting down trees and then replacing them with new young trees is not a net zero. At all. Remember when we were a designated Tree City USA for 31 years in a row?
    3.”concert noise at 75 decibels”- most experts agree that 90-120 decibels is the norm.
    4. Since the ADA was law in 1990, why is NU getting praised for accessibility plans when they should have made the stadium accessible during the 1996 remodel?
    5. LEED certified, but the bare minimum with no plan for sustainable energy and no talk of the massive CO2 footprint created by the demolition and subsequent rebuild.
    6. Curious that the vast majority of the conversation from NU is about “Other – Non-sports related uses”. What are the real benefits to the student body of Rebuild Ryan Field? Is any money going to actual improvement for athletes? How about female athletes? Tell us about where the women’s sports team facilities (ref Chgo Trib April article)’ NU coming up short”.
    Despite NU’s spin, the vast majority of the neighborhood supports Big Ten athletics and NU specifically. But more and more it’s clear that that is definitely not what Rebuild Ryan Field is about.
    Please read all the research provided by those of us challenging this project. Facts are compelling when you know them.

  11. This traffic plan isn’t even close to being capable of addressing the 10,000+ vehicles that will be converging on Ryan Field, not to mention parking. And Central Street is NOT a “typical busy street” in fact with a few short lived exceptions during the hospital shift changes there is very very light traffic on Central street east of Green Bay. So they are comparing the decibels to traffic on the Edens or on Halsted street in Chicago and Central Street is MUCH quieter 90% of the time! I live right on Central a block from the hospital and I guarantee the decibels are not even close to what they are saying. The other point is what Northwestern will do for Evanston, those are just empty words without a contract. Northwestern should pay the city a 17% entertainment tax on all ticket and food and beverage sales at Ryan field, something Wrigley and United Center are required, plus pay for security personnel within a 4 block radius of the stadium on event days, plus pay for all clean up with a 6 block radius, plus pay for any property damage cause by crowds to private properties. Northwestern should also be limited to no more than two concerts to start for the first three years and see how they manage it, and if it is working for the community, and limited to only 3-5 “smaller” events. Again all ticket sales, donations, sales of food and beverage pay Evanston a 17% entertainment tax. And no zoning change. Give Northwestern a very short leash. If it is not managed well then the city can back out of the deal whereas they can’t if they give a zoning change. Finally, who said college football should be profitable? It hasn’t been before now, and they will be receiving at least $60M a year up to $150M for their share of Big Ten broadcast royalties. Sorry Northwestern, affordability is just not a believable claim to convince this Evanstonian to basically forfeit all my property rights that I bought into because I believed in the existing zoning when I purchased my property.

  12. Friends – Please ask yourselves:
    Do you want to live in Evanston with the addition of the United Center on Central Street? No one can say that this existential disruption is in the best interests of the neighbors within several square miles of the proposed stadium! The congestion, the noise, the influx of huge trucks and the visitors from other towns during concerts will be a plague on our existence. This is not for our town, it is not even for the students who will be out of school during the heavy concert times in the summer! Northwestern has no right to impose it’s greedy profit making motives to ruin our city!!! For months they have burdened us with their semi-secret plan, silent on it’s details and with no realistic assessment by NU or anyone as to the massive impact of this proposal! And now they peep “we are happy to negotiate. . .” Audacity, greed, nothing given, everything taken from the neighborhoods!
    Countless meetings where they have refused to answer ANY substantive questions, countless brush offs with no substantive answers to emails. Despicable behavior!!
    Stand up everyone NOW before it is too late. Every city council member, and Mayor Biss must say NO to zoning changes and No to Concerts. No matter what the financial bribe NU will now “negotiate” with our town, do not SOIL our livable proud city!!!!!!!!

  13. You could search far and wide along the north shore of Chicagoland and it would be hard to find a worse place to locate a mega-entertainment complex than Ryan Field. It’s jammed into a congested neighborhood of single-family homes, elementary and middle schools, and small businesses – with very limited transportation access. Northwestern’s incessant demands to turn its ‘collegiate’ athletics complex into a professional entertainment venue is a recipe for chaos far beyond the immediate community. Moreover, Northwestern is a non-profit institution that pays no property taxes – it has no business (literally) trying to run a professional sports and entertainment enterprise. Those new to this controversy should check out past issues of the Roundtable and read the heartfelt words of Northwestern’s board chair to the town government in Martha’s Vineyard, complaining about how his quality of life would be affected by a hotel development a mile from his $24 million mansion. Now apply those same principles to thousands of residents in Evanston, Wilmette and nearby communities who would be affected by Northwestern’s ‘Field of Schemes,’ and you’ll see what a truly terrible idea the university’s demand for ‘Wrigleyville North’ really is.

  14. 7,500 people, 60 days a year.

    That’s more people than the maximum capacity of Radio City Music Hall. Visual for reference: https://photo.rukes.com/radiocity/slides/radiocity_125.html

    Where are they putting all these people? How are they getting to these “events”? What kind of “events” attract 7,500 people? Will there be alcohol at these “events”?

    60 days a year.

    Also, how many LEAVES are those replacement trees going to have relative to the ones that are cut down? Trees don’t absorb CO2 through their trunks. What percentage of shade-providing leaf canopy will be lost? The Ryan Field complex is already a heat island.

    Lastly, is any thought being given to the impact fall and spring events will have on the major bird migrations in those seasons? As a lakefront community on the Mississippi flyway, Evanston has a special responsibility in view of declining bird populations. The folks in apartments and houses aren’t Ryan Field’s only “neighbors.”

  15. This feels like the bare minimum from NU. Evanston should also get a percentage of the ticket sales. Glad to see NU stepping up here, but sorry to say, it’s not enough.

  16. As a Ryan Field neighbor who sits directly next to the stadium and currently has no buffer between our yard and the practice field, I am grateful to Northwestern for engaging us in discussion several months ago about landscaping design, their plan for a parking lot, lighting and drainage (vs. the existing playing field) which will mirror what was done on the west side of the stadium, etc. In a world where people enjoy taking swipes on social media and yelling out of turn at meetings, I will offer that when we requested a meeting, they showed up and engaged in meaningful conversation – for that, and listening to our suggestions, we are appreciative.

    I do hope that our Mayor and the City of Evanston work with Northwestern to define a benefits package over and beyond revenue generated from events that will benefit our City in very meaningful ways. The new stadium promises to be a tremendous asset to the community and personally, I’d like to see the asset used more. Currently the stadium is used 7 out of 365 days, 10 additional days (and to be clear- it’s 10 EVENT DAYS, not multiple days per each event) feels reasonable to us.

    1. Peggy, glad to see you pushing for a community benefits agreement. That cannot be overlooked by Councilmembers.

      As you know, the stadium is used for 7 games at “full” capacity, plus mulitple men/women basketball games, and as the RT just posted there will be “approximately 65 events over four days” for graduation ceremonies this month. So while many non 7th ward residents may feel the U2 distrcit is unused except for football, those of us immediately around the stadium know otherwise.

      And please read their updated zoning ordinance proposal carefully. It’s not just 10 additional event days. It’s also 60 addidtional days at 7,500 people that could be inside or outside. That’s 2.5 times as big as the upcoming Out of Space events. Look at traffic and noise during those events this summer. Do you really think that 60 more of those during the year is appropriate for a neighborhood?

  17. Northwestern claims that it needs zoning changes from the city council to make their new project economically viable. The city council does not have to grant these changes. In fact, granting these changes will most likely do future harm to many tax paying, voting Evanston and Wilmette residents and businesses.

    The City will incur many unenumerated costs as a result of the construction of a new stadium. For example, increased street damage. This will occur due to the thousands of semi-truck trips from construction, ongoing concert set-ups, take downs and parking created by the new stadium. These costs will be outsourced to Evanston and Wilmette by Northwestern without any mention of compensation.

    Northwestern has stated that Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) is a non-starter for Northwestern. If significant, ongoing payments are not part of the negotiation, then the City should walk away from this proposal and allow Northwestern to build their stadium within the current U-2 Zoning regulations.

    Instead of payments, Northwestern is proposing to form another oversight committee to be made up of citizens and Northwestern officials to help identify problems and propose solutions to any unforeseen problems created by the proposed stadium. This is not a commitment to solve the problems, this is a commitment to study the problems that they create. This type of solution does not seem to work well with the last community group that was formed with Northwestern, so why would the city council believe that it will work any better this time.

    The City Council should insist on written agreements from Northwestern for substantial, ongoing, monetary compensation from Northwestern to the City of Evanston before it even begins to consider granting Northwestern any zoning variances to allow it to become a for profit enterprise.

  18. Northwestern maintains the concerts are necessary for the project to be “financially feasible.” Why not either get the Ryans to kick in more money, or raise funds from alums in another capital drive? Surely that would be preferable to putting the burden of mass events on the surrounding neighborhood. Oh, and by the way, until Northwestern pays property taxes on the enormous amount of land it owns in Evanston, this project should receive no consideration.

  19. Why is an educational institution trying to become a For Profit Endeavor at the expense of residents and businesses in Evanston? Being a homeowner in the vicinity of the stadium and permitting Northwestern to build a new, totally unnecessary stadium in order to hold concerts (the existing stadium could be renovated, and concerts would be unnecessary) is a slap in the face as the finite warm weather days mean we could not have family nor friends over due to extreme traffic and limited parking. Ending a concert at 10:15 pm (assuming no rain delays) means noise and congestion (and public urination) will not end until 11:30 pm. I lived in Wrigleyville for 16 years. Evanston’s north side is not Wrigleyville. Wilmette’s south end is not Wrigleyville. Why try to force 28,000+ people (this is DOUBLE Ravinia’s capacity) into a narrow street with modest lighting when there are already concert venues all over the greater Chicago area. I oppose the zoning changes, the liquor license, and the traffic. The charm of the home football games (sparsely attended – and mostly attended by the visitors) is not going to translate well to nearly 30k vaping, intoxicated, car-dependent people wandering around our neighborhood in the dark. The sound and diesel truck disruption from erecting these concerts would commence DAYS before and immediately after such an event, essentially disrupting this neighborhood (and its clean air) for days on end. Northwestern should stick to what is knows: education, not greenwashing this inappropriate structure and forcing it on us.

  20. “But school officials have maintained throughout the process that concerts are necessary to make the project financially feasible.”

    If that is true, which I seriously doubt, build a cheaper stadium!!! How can you run a business school and be unable to spend within your own budget?