Northwestern University, which operates tax-free in Evanston, has proposed two controversial amendments to Evanston zoning laws that would dramatically change our neighborhoods, diminish our property values (leading to increased property taxes Citywide), risk our safety and jeopardize small businesses. The proposals are about to come before the City Council for approval.
The changes would allow NU to host large, for-profit concerts and professional sports events at the athletic facilities near Central Street, including Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Field, and to sell alcohol at these events.
What’s The Big Flap About?
The athletic facilities are in the heart of a residential neighborhood, on the main route to a Level 1 Trauma Center hospital, on the same street as two fire houses and near an important tax-generating business district, each of which would be severely and negatively impacted if such activities were allowed to move forward.
There are more than 520 houses and 20 multifamily residential buildings within 1,000 feet of these sports facilities. Thousands more homes and residents would be affected by the large crowds, impaired pedestrians, drunk drivers and noise created by large pro sports and for-profit concerts at these venues.
Large events like football and men’s basketball games already cause insane traffic and parking problems. Nearby residents have to plan their activities around NU’s events, because on game days/nights, you can’t have friends over (no place for them to park), can’t run errands (no parking when you return) and have to keep your kids away from rowdy patrons and speeding cars trying to escape the traffic jams by zooming down a residential side street. Many Central Street stores get less business on game days/nights because people don’t want to fight the congestion or can’t find parking.
Further, those same streets are used by emergency vehicles for the hospital and fire stations. Adding more commercial activities that are likely to draw large crowds is an unacceptable burden on our community.
There is no reason NU should be get these changes, which would allow them to make more money at our expense. Serving alcohol will add another layer of problems. Studies show that on average 8% of people leaving sports events where liquor is served have blood alcohol levels above the legal limit. At events of 7,000 people, that’s more than 500 drunks.
Wouldn’t It Bring In Money for the City?
NU says that the City would get revenue from these activities. First, the amounts raised would be relatively minimal. Second, they would be more than offset by the cost of additional fire and paramedic services, wear and tear on our streets, loss of tax from local businesses that lose customers on event days, and lower property taxes when home prices diminish and the fabric of neighborhoods is shredded. An economist testified before the Plan Commission that people who come into a community for large events are less likely to spend money in local restaurants and shops than residents would as they usually come to the event and leave.
Doesn’t NU Need the Money?
NU has one of the biggest endowments in the country – more than $12 billion, according to its 2018 Annual Report. Their athletics program alone brought in more than $93 million last year. If that’s not enough, that’s their problem, not ours. We encourage residents to join us in saying eNOugh to NU. Learn more on our Facebook page: Evanston Neighbors Against Pro Sports or NorthwesternNeighbors.org
-- Asbury Northwestern Neighbors, Evanston Neighbors Against Pro Sports/Al Williams North Evanston Watch/Laurie McFarlane, Judy Berg, Evanston Economists for Growth/John Nadar and Joe Hill, NorthwesternNeighobrs.org/Mary Rosinski and Christina Brandt, Spotlight on Evanston/Yvi Russell. Mr. Proskie is a member of Asbury Northwestern Neighbors