Evanston people see red over Ryan Field rejig



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Revised plans for Ryan Field Northwestern University Image: Northwestern University

In the midst of multiple scandals that have rocked Northwestern Athletics, there is still one issue that the Northwestern University (NU) has been facing for the past year: Building the new Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois (US).

‘insidenu.com’ stated that the university’s plan to construct a new state-of-the-art facility has faced plenty of backlash from Evanston’s residents, but Northwestern will still attempt to complete the $800 million renovation.

The Northwestern Wildcats football team represents the Northwestern University as a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I college football team and member of the Big Ten Conference based near Chicago in Evanston, Illinois (US). Founded in 1851, Northwestern began playing football in 1882.

Indianapolis (US)-based the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is a nonprofit organization that regulates student-athletics among about 1,100 schools in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It also organizes the athletic programs of colleges and helps over 500,000 college student-athletes who compete annually in college sports.

The Big Ten Conference is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic Conference in the United States. Founded as the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives in 1896, it predates the founding of its regulating organization, the NCAA. It is based in the Chicago area in Rosemont, Illinois.

The Northwestern University is a private research university in Evanston, Illinois, United States. Established in 1851 to serve the former Northwest Territory, it is the oldest chartered university in Illinois. The university’s main campus lies along the shores of Lake Michigan in the Chicago metropolitan area.

The 47,130-capacity Ryan Field is a stadium in the Central United States, located in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb North of Chicago. Near the campus of the Northwestern University, it is primarily used for American football and is the home field of the Northwestern Wildcats of the Big Ten Conference.
 

The Basics

‘insidenu.com’ further stated that in late September 2022, the Northwestern revealed its plans for a new stadium to the public. The university said that the renovation is privately-funded, including $480 million donated by the Ryan family, the largest single-time donation in Northwestern University history. While the current Ryan Field can seat 47,000 fans, the new stadium would reduce capacity to 35,000 seats. Much like the new 7,039-capacity Welsh-Ryan Arena, the new Ryan Field will create a more intimate setting. Northwestern also said that the stadium will have a canopy at the top of the stadium, protecting spectators from wind and rain.

To pay for the stadium, Northwestern originally proposed having 10 full-capacity concerts every year. Although the current stadium does not have permanent lighting, the new stadium will be able to host nighttime events all year round. The original proposal also stated that the Northwestern University could host an unlimited number of events of fewer than 10,000 people. In a letter to the Evanston community, the Northwestern President Michael Schill said that the university would only seek six concerts a year and dropped its request for unlimited 10,000-people-or-fewer events.

‘insidenu.com’ further stated that according to the stadium proposal, Northwestern will build plazas around the stadium for community events, such as holiday markets and movie nights. In his letter, Schill said the Northwestern University would limit the number of community events in the stadium and the plaza to 60 days a year.

Hoping to gain support from the community, the Northwestern released a study that said the new stadium will bring in tens of millions of dollars more than the current stadium. Furthermore, the Northwestern University says its goal is for 35 percent of all stadium construction contracts would be awarded to minority and women-owned businesses in Evanston.
 

Why is there Pushback?

If you ever drive around Evanston, it is impossible to miss the ‘eNoUgh’ signs planted in yards surrounding the stadium. Residents of Evanston’s Seventh Ward, where the stadium is located, and surrounding neighborhoods in Wilmette have attempted to halt the construction of the stadium. Residents are not concerned with the football and lacrosse games, but with concert-goers flooding the neighborhood. Neighbors complain of traffic congestion and are worried the noise and light from concerts will keep them up at night.

Neighbors were also concerned that Northwestern was not paying its fair share back to the community. Because the stadium was designated for “educational purposes”, the Northwestern University does not pay tax on the revenue it collects from the stadium. With the university proposing to hold concerts at the new venue, the residents wanted assurances that the community would see the benefits of the increased revenue. Recently, Schill laid out the Northwestern University’s financial plan to help Evanston. He said the Northwestern University would guarantee $2 million to the City, and surcharges on concert tickets will provide $50,000 to the local Evanston schools. Schill added that the Northwestern University will host a $250,000 event each year “that will benefit our entire community as directed by the City leadership”.

Furthermore, in light of recent allegations of hazing inside the football program and the subsequent termination of Pat Fitzgerald (Head Coach of the Northwestern Wildcats), whether the Northwestern University would move ahead with the new stadium was up in the air. Fitzgerald was a huge part of creating the new stadium, as the designs were drawn to his vision. Fitzgerald said that the new stadium would help create a home-field advantage for Northwestern and allow fans to be right on top of the field, making a stadium of only 35,000 feel much bigger. Fitz was even at the original reveal of the new stadium in September, alongside President Schill, and was constantly around campus and the community rallying support for the new stadium. With Fitz no longer at the helm of the program, Northwestern no longer had a face of the renovation. Also, following Fitzgerald’s firing and the hazing allegations, over 260 members of Northwestern’s faculty asked the university to not move forward with the new stadium until “this crisis is satisfactorily resolved”.

Northwestern made some concessions recently, lowering the number of events it originally asked to hold, however, some community organizers are still not satisfied and have concerns.

David DeCarlo, President of the Most Livable City Association, said in a statement, “Northwestern knows it is losing the battle of public opinion. Still seeking a radical zoning change, and failing to address environmental, financial and labor concerns with the stadium rebuild, this ‘offer’ is nothing but a fig leaf in Northwestern University quest to remake entire neighborhoods and disrupt life in Evanston and beyond.”
 

Revised Ryan Field Proposal

 

Dear members of the Evanston community,

“As you know, thanks to a remarkably generous gift from the Ryan Family, we have been embarking on a journey to remake and rebuild the Ryan Field in a way that will allow us to transform an aging, deteriorating stadium into a community asset. The new stadium has never been solely about Northwestern football, its role as an economic and social engine goes well beyond that. Our goal has always been to host community-oriented events such as Winter festivals, holiday celebrations, family movie nights, and youth sports events, as well as additional student and community programing to take full advantage of the plazas and new park being built.

‘northwestern.edu’ stated that “Over the past year, we have held more than 100 meetings and forums and had the opportunity to listen and learn to balance the aspirations for how people would like to see the stadium maximized, with those who have expressed reservations or concerns. We know that as a key part of this community, we need to listen to our neighbors across the entire City of Evanston.”
 

Moving Forward

“Northwestern is willing to reduce the fixed number of concerts in the ordinance to six per year to balance the need to realistically operate the venue while addressing the concerns of neighbors.”

‘northwestern.edu’ further stated that “Northwestern is willing to modify the original text amendment request that allowed for an unlimited number of 10,000-person University events at the Ryan Field. We are willing to no longer ask for that change. While many residents were hoping to utilize the stadium throughout the year, Northwestern is willing to limit community-based activities at the stadium and plazas to 60 days per year with programs designed in collaboration with our neighbors such as holiday celebrations and the Fall and Winter festivals as mentioned above.”
 

An Opportunity to Increase Equity for all of Evanston

“We have made having a transformational impact on Evanston a centerpiece to the rebuild project. As we have previously shared, we are committed to a target of 35 percent of all subcontracted spending – more than $208 million – for the local, minority- and women-owned businesses, with priority given to businesses and individuals located in Evanston. Our Construction Manager, Turner-Walsh, is focusing on workforce training and planning to align with Northwestern’s commitments to the underrepresented communities – providing significant opportunities for Evanstonians in low-skill jobs to move into good paying, high skill careers. Additionally, we are excited to announce additional financial benefits tied to the Ryan Field redevelopment:

  • An additional $10 million commitment from the Ryan Family will enable the University to create an Evanston workforce technology upskilling program. This initiative will equip under-employed community residents with the necessary technology skills and resources to thrive in the modern workforce and achieve economic mobility. While this program will help support workforce opportunities related to the stadium, it will be endowed in a way that supports Evanston residents straddling future generations;
  • The university will guarantee a minimum of $2 million in annual tax and fee revenue to the City of Evanston tied to events at the new stadium. This number has the potential to increase depending on the number of events being held each year;
  • While Northwestern works closely with the local schools today, the increased use of the stadium gives us an opportunity to think creatively about how to do more. The university is committing to applying a ticket surcharge to concerts at the Ryan Field that will generate an additional $500,000 in revenue annually to support the Evanston Public Schools;
  • An additional $250,000 annually to support a signature Evanston/Northwestern event that will benefit our entire community as directed by the City leadership; and
  • While these benefits are centered on the renovation and use of the stadium itself, we know the university’s relationship with Evanston goes beyond this specific project. As such, we remain in active discussions with the leadership of the City of Evanston on other concrete ways we can support the City. It has always been our intention to provide a project that can be enjoyed by all of us well into the future. We look forward to working with you to see Evanston take advantage of this opportunity today and for generations to come.

 
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