North Evanston residents gathered at the Morton Civic Center on the evening of May 17, ostensibly for the Central Street Neighbors Association’s (CSNA) annual meeting – but Northwestern University’s proposal for a new stadium was foremost on most participants’ minds.
The university’s plan for a new Ryan Field to host a number of concerts and smaller-scale events in addition to Wildcats football games has galvanized neighborhood opposition.
The first half of the Wednesday night presentation consisted of a Q&A between CSNA President Jeff Smith and political/communications strategist Kitty Kurth of the Chicago-based consultancy Kurth Lampe Worldwide.
Smith, an Evanston-based attorney who has worked on a number of real estate, land use and planning issues, discussed the history of zoning, ultimately tying that into Evanston’s own historical uses of zoning rules.
“When zoning is sought to be changed, people can chime in, [and] people who are in proximity have priority,” Smith said. “… Every single year, there are zoning controversies.”
Numerous people at the meeting contemplated what would be the most effective way to respond to the stadium proposal, given Northwestern’s resources. The university is seeking zoning changes as part of the stadium project.
In Northwestern’s proposal, officials wrote, “The proposed zoning ordinance text amendment is necessary to allow for additional activation of the new Ryan Field as a broader community asset, in a manner aligned with the magnitude of investment and consistent with stadium projects across the country. As a once-in-a-century, transformational project, the new Ryan Field provides an opportunity for unprecedented job creation and economic impact in Evanston. However, it is not consistent with modern stadium design, operational practice, or financial sustainability to limit use of the new facility to only seven football games per year.”
Smith and others argued that a major difference between Northwestern’s stadium and most other university venues is that facilities at other schools are not embedded in a residential neighborhood.
One audience member maintained that the project would “destroy the quality of life for about 150 single-family homeowners.”
Legal and political strategies: ‘It’s not an either/or’
Smith emphasized that residents who are opposed to the stadium will have to marshal as many resources, and try as many reasonable tactics, as possible, be it communicating with elected officials or banding together for legal challenges.
The Most Livable City Association has hired an attorney to weigh possible legal challenges. A flyer distributed at the meeting by the group said, “The proposed [zoning] amendment is so broad it allows virtually any type of commercial entertainment, and it sharply limits the city’s ability to set rules and restrictions on the activities that can take place.”
“You have to take your legal steps and do the political stuff – it’s not an either/or,” Smith said. He was critical of the city having folded together its Plan Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals to create the current Land Use Commission. The consolidation, he said, reduces “the outlets for our opinions.”
Smith urged the audience to keep in mind a key question – would the stadium go against the current zoning and planned uses for the neighborhood? Smith said many residents obviously do not want north Evanston to be turned into an “entertainment district,” so they need to focus on persuading officials not to allow the amendment.
Most Evanston City Council members have not publicly taken a position on the Ryan Field project. Council Member Thomas Suffredin (6th Ward) has called Northwestern’s proposal “deficient,” adding, “It asks too much of Evanstonians and leaves too many questions unanswered.”
Council Member Eleanor Revelle (7th Ward) has said she is waiting for more information. Revelle opposed a similar 2019 push by Northwestern to hold for-profit events at Welsh-Ryan Arena. (The council ultimately approved a two-year pilot project, but the pandemic prevented scheduling events.)
One audience member suggested picketing events such as Northwestern’s upcoming graduation: “All the procedural things are important, but we should do some things that are visual.”
Smith said he was reluctant to discourage anyone from picketing, but added, “The students about to graduate are not the ones asking for an $800 million stadium.”
He said that compiling “the best data” was an important strategy, and Kurth said residents should consider leveraging petitions and social media. Smith also spoke about the logistics of conducting a possible Seventh Ward referendum on the matter.
Northwestern: Most Evanstonians support project
On Thursday, Jon Yates, assistant vice president of communications at Northwestern, responded that the university’s Ryan Field proposal has broad community support.
“Nearly 3,000 Evanston residents have said, in writing, that they support the Ryan Field project, with more than 100 of those individuals living in the 7th Ward,” Yates said in an email. “According to a poll commissioned by the University and conducted by Impact Research, a majority of Evanston residents support the stadium because they feel it would enhance their quality of life.
“The poll showed that the majority of Evanston residents support our plans to rebuild the new Ryan Field as a smaller, more environmentally friendly and accessible community venue. The same research also shows that most Evanston residents believe the project will create strong benefits for the City and create transformational jobs and career opportunities for current and future generations.”
Yates cited the Evanston/North Shore Branch of the NAACP, the Evanston Own It faith organization and the Field of Opportunities group as strong supporters of the stadium project.
Unlike other Wards where pickleball is disallowed because of the “noise factor,” Eleanor Ravelle doesn’t seem to be bothered about the noise factor caused by 28,000 people attending 10 major concerts every year where alcohol will be served. She’s been to our meetings. She’s heard our concerns. What more information does she need? We need her to get off the fence and decisively denounce NU’s proposal – much the way her neighbor Thomas Suffredin (6th Ward) is doing.
– NU claims that 100 people within the 7th Ward are in favor of NU’s “Ryan Field Project.” However, ask NU if these same 100 people were aware of plans for 10 major concerts each summer certain to create noise, traffic, parking and disorderly disturbance problems.
Has anyone ever figured out how much tax-free land Northwestern owns in Evanston and how much property tax that would yield? I think many in this town would be aghast!
And building a bigger “better” stadium will be a nightmare for nearby residents with clogged streets, noise, garbage, etc. How could it not be?
By the way I don’t live in north Evanston, but I completely sympathize.
Some people will use public transportation to get to concerts. Many won’t. Central St. and all the access streets to Ryan Field are single lane, at least for part of the way. Evanston Hospital and the north fire station require clear streets for urgent activities, such as saving lives and property. The area is very difficult to access during football season now. Frequent concert activities will make it worse.
Southeast Wilmette residents will be affected too. Village Manager Mike Braiman noted that there are significant concerns about outdoor concerns and the impact they would have, like traffic and parking, alcohol sales, the impact of people walking through neighborhoods to their cars.”
We are talking about a quiet residential area, not suited for this type of activity. Evanston’s carbon footprint will be raised by the increased traffic and vendor activity. Local households will be inconvenienced. And the beautiful and historic existing stadium would be replaced by a McVenue. In my opinion, it is a flawed idea to replace the existing stadium.
I live at 1514 Central Street. If you don’t live this close to the Stadium, your opinion has no merit.
A friend brought South Bend / ND to my attention.
1) Eddy Commons, a high end residential area in South Bend recently built across from Notre Dame stadium precisely because of access to the stadium and other athletic facilities. As you can read, the condos, townhomes and custom homes are very popular – and expensive for South Bend. https://www.eddycommons.com/living-1
2) And, yes, Notre Dame does host concerts in their stadium (seats over 77K). Both Garth Brooks (https://www.abc57.com/news/garth-brooks-concert-makes-a-big-economic-impact-around-south-bend) and Billy Joel have played the venue. I live directly east of the stadium and would welcome the opportunity to sit on my deck and listen to both! https://experiencesandevents.nd.edu/stadium-concerts/
Interestingly, here is the map of ND’s campus. https://map.nd.edu/#/placemarks//zoom/16/lat/41.69720616538881/lon/-86.23146747053943 The stadium is easy to spot. The Joyce Center, next to it, is the basketball arena. Very similar to Welsh Ryan and Ryan Field set up. You can also see the grey area surrounding both buildings which are parking lots. Across Angela Blvd. is all residential with some restaurants – like Central Street.
Notre Dame has twice as many seats as the new Ryan Field will reportedly have and of course South Bend and Evanston are different, but I was also struck by two important similarities — they are both world-class academic institutions and in very close proximity to residential areas.
As a Ryan Field neighbor, I strongly urge Mayor Biss and Alderwoman Revelle to work closely with Northwestern and ALL residents (not just those that are loudest) to construct a deal that greatly benefits the City of Evanston, its residents and — turn something that sits empty 358 days a year into an asset that our community can enjoy.
In the case of NU’s stadium, people’s homes are directly across Central Street—about 120 feet away, building to building. In the example you cite of Notre Dame Stadium, those condos and townhomes across Angela Blvd. are over 1670 feet away—that’s about 14 times the distance. You can measure this on Google Maps. There aren’t any homes within 120 feet of Notre Dame’s Stadium, just parking lots and university facilities.
It’s true, David, that some people chose to purchase property closer to Ryan Field than the Angelo/Eddy Street properties are to ND stadium. Some of those people, such as Peggy, welcome concerts at Ryan Field.
I suspect some of the more strident objectors to concerts at Ryan Field live much further away than 1700 feet- say in residential areas west of Green Bay Road for example. And the only “facility” between the ND stadium/athletic complex and the residential area she describes, other than a parking lot, is a sculpture park. Take a ride over to SB to see for yourself.
Peggy’s larger point is that other communities, such as South Bend, have developed partnerships with their major universities for economic opportunities. It’s what the Evanston Thrives reports calls upon our leaders to do. In the example Peggy provides, Notre Dame is its own municipality. South Bend intentionally rezoned and developed residential areas literally across the street from the University’s sports facilities to take advantage of sports and entertainment options. ND stadium didn’t go anywhere- residential neighborhoods came to it. Given the popularity of this neighborhood, it was a brilliant and successful municipal move.
ND’s Stadium has been there for a very long time. It wasn’t added to an already established neighborhood.
As an active member of the Most Livable City organization strongly opposed to Northwestern’s reckless plans, I am certainly not aware of any plans by our group or affiliated groups to picket at graduation. The graduating students and their families are not the ones who hatched the ‘Field of Schemes’ in secrecy and are trying to rush it through approval. That is the work of Northwestern’s administration and donors. Northwestern’s demands for zoning changes so this ‘non-profit’ (i.e., non-taxpaying) institution can stage mega concerts, professional entertainment events and other non-collegiate activities, in the cramped footprint of its athletics complex, is a recipe for long-term community chaos.
It’s my guess that NU will get what it wants eventually. But the devil is in the details. How will noise be mitigated? How will traffic/parking/transportation for tens of thousands of people be managed effectively and efficiently—almost every summer weekend? How will revenues from these big events be divided between the City of Evanston and NU? What will NU promise the City in terms of quantifiable monetary guarantees, on top of whatever tax revenues or jobs might (MIGHT) come our way? I agree, picketing NU’s graduation is kind of..bad form. Let’s not be petulant! If I lived right there, I would not be happy about these plans either. But the current configuration of Ryan Field isn’t all that great and the improvements—which should be a level of LEED certification higher than currently proposed—could, overall, be beneficial. “Could” being the operative word here. I’m grateful the City is hiring its own consultants and proceeding with its own study, but I’m again urging City officials to use this opportunity to get a solid promise of money from NU, in-line with levels pledged to host cities by other large Universities.
How desperate and sad that someone in this group would even consider picketing and ruining graduation day for students who’ve worked hard for 4 years to obtain a degree from one of the most prestigious universities in the country. And let’s not forget about the sacrifices many parents made to pay for their elite education. Do they deserve this ? The idea to even consider doing this is just plain awful; the optics would be even worse. Is this the type of behavior which makes Evanston “The Most Livable City”? I sincerely hope not!
I’m not sure where I’ll land in this stadium project, but I see nothing wrong with picketing graduation. The funds for such projects are supported by the students and their families (directly and indirectly). They chose a university with a history of battles with it’s neighbors. Northwestern may not care what a groups of neighbors thinks, at least enough to push the needle, but having paying students, families and donors informed of the impact actually makes sense as that’s who NU cares about.
What group are you talking about? Most Livable City has not and DOES NOT advocate for picketing graduation. Period.
One individual at the meeting (a Kellogg alum) expressed a level of frustration that led him to say he wants to picket.
What’s truly unconscionable is for NU execs to tout their (in)famous opinion survey as evidence. Ask Yates for the full methodology and tabbed responses to each survey question and see how far you get. You won’t get that information. The survey couldn’t pass muster as a credible instrument in Marketing 101. That kind of disinformation drives knowledgeable people up the wall. NU can’t build trust because they believe–wrongly–that they have enough people who swallow their disinformation without questioning it.
Not to worry. It’s not happening!