After a highly contentious debate over a year, Northwestern is moving forward with plans to revitalize its historic football stadium.
Late Monday, the Evanston City Council approved both an amendment to the zoning code and the building permit to rebuild Ryan Field; the latter measure passed by a 6-2 vote, while the former passed 5-4 with a tiebreaker from Mayor Daniel Biss after six hours of deliberation.
The rezoning issue has been at the crux of this saga. Northwestern’s plan to build the $800 million privately funded stadium involved the venue being able to host up to six concerts per year and serve alcohol, which required rezoning from the city of Evanston.
Residents of the neighborhood surrounding Ryan Field heavily opposed the measure, saying that adding concerts and alcohol to the venue would lead to noise pollution and “crimes of opportunity.” The opponents are expected to sue the city over the approval.
“While we are elated with the Council’s decision, we remain deeply committed to being sensitive and responsive to the concerns raised throughout this process,” said Northwestern’s senior executive director of neighborhood and community relations Dave Davis. “We recognize the emotional depth of this issue and extend our sincere gratitude to everyone who shared their perspectives.”
NU sweetened the deal for the city and its residents by committing $157.5 million in donations to local schools and organizations over 15 years.
Regardless of how anyone feels about it and assuming the university can get past the legal challenges, construction is expected to begin immediately on a new Ryan Field that will replace the 97-year-old one. The new stadium will have a seating capacity of 35,000 for football and 28,500 for concerts.