The Evanston City Council on Monday night voted 6-2 to delay a decision on Northwestern University’s plans for a new Ryan Field.
The move to table the measure until next Monday allows more time to negotiate and consider a community benefits agreement with the university. Before a packed City Council chamber, the motion at the beginning of Monday night’s meeting surprised many in attendance who were expecting a decisive action.
The $800 million rehab of Ryan Field was controversial from the start. Proponents and opponents of the privately-funded development have repeatedly clashed, prompting revisions to the plan along the way.
Plans call for the new state-of-the-art stadium to be smaller in size than the nearly century-old structure, moving from a capacity of 47,000 to 35,000 for football games. But the big issue is what the school plans to use the stadium for besides football.
The university needs zoning approval from the Evanston City Council to allow for up to six concerts a year, as well as a host of smaller events. Northwestern officials say they can’t move forward with the plans without the concert approval.
Video: Evanston residents weigh in on the Ryan Field renovation and concert plans before a vote took place to table the measure on Nov. 13, 2023.
Before Monday night’s meeting, Evanston resident Robert Orenstein said he sees the new stadium and additional events as a positive for the city.
“If they’re used to football games that get 47,000 people and a concert is capped at 28,500 people, you’d have to explain to me how you’d get more traffic with less people,” Orenstein said. “And they haven’t been able to do that. So, there really won’t be more traffic, there will just be six additional events of traffic during the summer when students are away and the town is pretty quiet and this is just going to bring more tourist revenue to the city.”
For David DeCarlo of the Most Livable Citty Association, the concerns aren’t just about the immediate area around the stadium.
“Northwestern, and the city’s own experts have said this, they have no feasible traffic plan, no parking plan that makes sense at this point. If you just look at facts, are we a town that at the end of the day looks at facts and reason to make our decision, that’s what’s at stake tonight.”
The last version of the community benefits agreement, which after Monday’s move could now likely be further tweaked, included Northwestern forking over millions per year in tax revenues and other costs to the community over the span of 15 years.
Before the move to table, Monday’s vote was expected to be close after a 4-4 vote to send the concert proposal to the meeting resulted in Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss serving as the tie-breaking affirmative vote. That was after a city commission soundly rejected the zoning plan in a 7-2 vote.
Before Monday night’s meeting, Biss classified the impending vote as a toss-up.
The Evanston City Council is once again expected to take up the issue Nov. 20.