Evanston land use commission weighs in on new Ryan Field plans, community split on proposal

Thursday, September 7, 2023
Evanston land use commission weighs in on Ryan Field revamp plans
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The Evanston land use commission weighed in on new Ryan Field plans, as the community remains split and the Northwestern football scandal looms.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- After two delays, the Evanston land use commission weighed in Wednesday night on plans by Northwestern University to revamp Ryan Field.

Residents both opposed and in favor of the changes packed the city council chambers and multiple overflow rooms. The school is proposing hosting additional summer concerts at the stadium.

For most of the year, Ryan Field sits empty.

"Seven days out of the entire year is when the Ryan Stadium is used at full capacity," said Dave Davis, Northwestern University.

The meeting begins the formal effort by Northwestern to rebuild with private dollars the nearly century-old stadium and rezone for commercial use, allowing it to host up to six concerts a year and up to 60 days of community-based events there.

"We think that's a modest ask for a project that can bring in up to $1 billion in economic impact over 10 years," he said.

The school said it's participated in more than 100 public meetings since the venue change was proposed two years ago. But there has been strong pushback from some community groups, who say adding concerts would negatively their neighborhoods.

"Their concerns have largely gone unanswered, whether the potential environmental impact that the stadium and subsequent commercial zoning would have on their homes," said Sebastian Nalls, Community Alliance for Better Government.

Nalls said his organization wants Northwestern to agree to a community benefits agreement.

"We're at the point where we want to see commitments to affordable housing," he said.

The university said the Ryan family is pledging $10 million for a workforce technology training program for underemployed community members, and the university will guarantee at least $2 million annually to the city of Evanston in tax and fee revenue as well as $500,000 from annual ticket surcharge revenue to Evanston Public Schools.

"This is a pro-business proposal, and the Evanston Chamber of Commerce supports it. We as residents need to support it if we want to continue to maintain our quality of life in Evanston," said resident Peggy Baxter.

"For them to try and create profit, pretending it's about school and collegiate athletics, and it's not. It's about making money," said resident Margaret Myers.

Some Northwestern faculty also voiced concerns over plans for the new stadium, saying they should be paused while former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch conducts her investigation into the hazing allegations that rocked the school's athletics department.

"We think we should separate the two, the hazing incident from the future of the Ryan Field stadium, and again our full attention is. On the will being health and safety of our students," Davis said.

The land use commission is an advisory unit; the final decision on stadium plans comes from city council. Public comment is expected to be lengthy, with another possible hearing scheduled in the future.