Two weeks after the Evanston City Council shelled out $78,500 to C.H. Johnson Consulting to conduct an independent economic impact study on Northwestern University’s proposed Ryan Field redevelopment, city staff members are now seeking guidance on possibly hiring another consultant to hold community engagement sessions on the project as well.
In the City Council meeting packet for Monday, May 22, Evanston Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak wrote of the stadium design and construction process that “community members have been engaged in a limited fashion, either through 7th Ward meetings, surveys, or petitions. An intentional community-wide multifaceted engagement process has not yet occurred.”
As a result, if the City Council chooses to hire a consultant, the selected firm would be tasked with hosting at least four “interactive” meetings with community members to measure public opinion regarding Northwestern’s proposed zoning changes and construction plans, especially when it comes to the university’s desire to host concerts.
But the potential cost of hiring an additional consultant could be a problem. Evanston’s Economic Development Committee has already collected three applications from firms in Evanston and Chicago, with total prices ranging between $50,000 and $100,000. The highest-rated applicant based on city staff analysis, Community Allies, would likely cost the city somewhere around $85,000.
“Staff requests direction from City Council on how to proceed in light of the high potential cost, which is likely far more than the Council anticipated,” Zalmezak wrote in the memo, viewable on page 248 of the May 22 meeting packet. “No specific funding was budgeted for this unplanned work.”
In its engagement plan submitted to the city, Community Allies included bilingual outreach, social media input, resident surveys, Zoom meetings and in-person meetings, according to the City Council packet.
Alternatively, Zalmezak and the economic development team also proposed having city staff conduct its own community engagement and feedback process to avoid spending more public dollars on unbudgeted projects.
“Our existing system of City Council meetings, ward meetings, committee meetings, and neighborhood group meetings is sufficient to gather the community feedback necessary to help our elected representatives make informed decisions,” he said in the memo. “With additional direction from the City Council, staff could devise additional means, beyond these formal meeting sessions, to try to reach a younger and broader audience (beyond the immediately impacted area) through social media, intentional engagement, including surveys, a city-wide mail campaign with a link to a survey, social media engagement, or a city-wide zoom meeting (with live polling on devices).”
This is a bad idea.
Opponents have long lists of objections–honed over decades–to anything the University does, with many of the objections vilifying the institution that is the economic engine of Evanston. These shrill people will dominate any discussion and intimidate people who would love to see a new stadium keep football on Central Street for the next 100 years.
And many people who don’t object to ten concerts during the summer and want the economic benefits of 500,000 annual visitors will be intimidated by organized groups representing a handful of people who insist on extorting tax payments from the University because “that’s what other Universities do”. These objectors “to everything” conflate the issues and refuse to partner with the University for the benefit of all Evanstonians.
Do a paper or email survey; do not get people in a room. We’ve seen what happens in those settings, and it is not a pretty picture.
“These shrill people will dominate any discussion and intimidate people who would love to see a new stadium keep football on Central Street for the next 100 years.”
Let’s pretend for a second onlt community groups exist and the group of people who support Ryan Field are not a huge prestigious & wealthy University and their Billionaire Donor Alumni, the Ryan Family.
If the other dominatela the conversation it’s becauser they care deeply about the issue and have organized to accomplish their goals.
There are a few pro-NU/Pro Ryan Field re-zoning groups out there. Why haven’t they banded together the way the Northwestern Accountability Alliance has? Why aren’t they having public town halls that anyone can go to so they can learn more about their side of this issue?
Why isn’t Northwestern hosting their information at times when people who work 9-5s can go without missing work?
Why are you so sure you can’t get people who want to let Northwestern radically change zoning to show up?
Northwestern should pay for any and all costs that the City of Evanston incurs related to the potential reconstruction of Ryan Field. Therefore, Northwestern should pay for the cost of this consultant, as well as any and all other consultants that the City needs to hire to make an informed decision as to whether or not to allow any zoning changes in the U2 Zoning district. As advertised by Northwestern, the reconstruction of this stadium is supposed to be a financial bonanza for the City of Evanston. Up until now, it appears that this project has been costing the Evanston tax payers thousands, and the stadium has not even been started.
As retired VP of marketing communications for a Philanthropy 400 nonprofit, who managed a multimillion-dollar budget, I estimate that NU so far has spent well over half a million to bamboozle Evanston with bogus surveys and polls, propaganda mailings, and inadequate and misleading traffic and noise studies. Its total lack of cooperation with Evanston is costing taxpayers a lot of money that we shouldn’t have to spend. But spend it we must, because on one score NU is right–its Ryan Field scheme will be transformational, and we darn well better understand what kind of transformation we’re in for. Many people want the new Ryan Field, and many do not. Too many people make assumptions and guesses about the impact. WE NEED TO KNOW based on real information. Send NU the bill for this. And for the tens of millions of dollars in Payment in Lieu of Taxes it owes Evanston
Zalmezak’s idea for community engagement is a good one. It is clearly needed. I also agree that NU should spend whatever is required. Evanston has spent enough to resolve this issue. That said, plans proposed by the consultants may be over cooked, and unnecessary. Getting opposing factions in the same room will only result in turmoil. Rather, meet with the two opposing groups separately (pro vs those. against NU’s proposal). Solicit points of view from each group and share them for responses from the opposing group. This way, the City will be able to hear and compare both sides of the issue sans the tumult that will otherwise occur. Furthermore, this could all be done inexpensively by hiring a moderator instead of a consultancy.