‘Chicago Tonight’ In Your Neighborhood: Mixed Reactions to Northwestern’s Proposed Ryan Field Makeover in Evanston

Northwestern University is proposing to give its more than 100-year-old Ryan Field a major makeover.

The change is said to make the field accessible for people with disabilities, offer green spaces and — to some community members’ dismay — have the option for concerts and similar events.

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Parielle Davis lives less than two blocks away from Ryan Field. She said she’s gone if the new stadium becomes reality.

“If they do have the stadium and they start using it for concerts, I plan to move,” Parielle Davis said. “It’s not what I signed up for.”

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The school received a $480 million gift from the Ryan Family; a big chunk of that is reserved for the redevelopment of the football stadium, Ryan Field.

Dave Davis, Northwestern’s senior executive director for the office of neighborhood and community relations, said the current stadium was built in the early 1900s and is sorely in need of the revamp.

“There are a number of structural deficiencies that’s wrong with the stadium,” Dave Davis said, “and we need to bring the stadium into the 21st century.”

The university said the proposal features more accessibility, public green spaces and 12,000 fewer seats to reduce congestion.

For many residents, the redesign isn’t the issue.

It’s the added activity they believe will come to the neighborhood. This is because the university applied to change zoning laws to allow for unlimited indoor and outdoor lectures, speakers, music festivals and other social events for up to 10,000 people, and up to 10 concerts per year at the new stadium or Welsh-Ryan Arena, according to the proposal. 

To Parielle Davis, who volunteers with the Most Livable City Association, that means more foot traffic and a more unpredictable crowd than the usual Northwestern students.

“Northwestern is giving us a hamburger and painting it as a steak,” Parielle Davis said.

Garrett Karp is the executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. He sees the added events as a good deal for Evanston businesses that rely on the handful of Northwestern Wildcats home games.

“I think businesses are really excited about the potential for seeing new traffic, seeing new audiences — but also the partnership opportunities throughout the year,” Karp said.

Next to the field is the fan-favorite Mustard’s Last Stand, serving hot dogs and more since the 1960s.

Manager Samuel Licea said the project will be a boon for sales of items like the famous “wildcat burger,” a half-pound of ground beef with cheddar cheese, grilled onions, barbecue sauce and giardiniera peppers.

“Normally everyone comes to Mustard’s every game, every event that Northwestern has next door,” Licea said. “It'll make our business secure.”

The school produced an economic impact study that concluded the new field will generate more than $1 billion in Cook and Lake counties combined.

Neva Legallet, a senior at Northwestern with Students Organizing for Labor Rights, is asking for an independent economic impact study to be done. Her group is also hoping the university hires a diverse workforce for construction and for union neutrality.

“Northwestern has an immense amount of funds and resources,” Legallet said, “and it’s time for it to do the right thing with those resources and repay back the community that’s given it so much by letting it be here tax-free.”

Dave Davis said the school is still open to hearing community concerns — and has already made changes to its plan, like decreasing the numbers of seats and adding an underground loading dock to lessen traffic.

“It’s also important for us to note that this level of investment, this magnitude of investment, requires us to design a field that will be environmentally and financially sustainable,” Dave Davis said. “We know we can’t do that with seven football games a year.”

The Evanston City Council will debate the proposal of the zoning change in March, according to the Evanston Roundtable.

Note: This article was updated to clarify the number of concert and events that would be allowed under the proposal. 

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