Ryan Field is getting a makeover.
After tabling the measure for a week, the Evanston City Council voted 6-2 on Monday evening to approve the $800 million renovation of Ryan Field. The Council also approved the rezoning of the stadium’s U2 district, on a 5-4 vote with Mayor Daniel Biss breaking a 4-4 tie. As a result, Ryan Field will be allowed be used for commercial use. Under the new zoning, Northwestern will be able to host up to six concerts each year at the facility.
“This is a huge win for the city of Evanston,” Dave Davis, Northwestern’s senior executive director of neighborhood and community relations, said following the meeting. “The onus is now on us to ensure that we live up to the commitments we’ve made throughout the entire process, and we continue to engage our neighbors. We are super excited because of what it means to the local Evanston economy, what it means culturally, and what it means for the future partnership between Northwestern and the city of Evanston.”
The City Council’s decision came after five previous hearings, nearly 40 hours of testimony, from proponents and opposition of the stadium. Monday’s decision reversed the recommendation of the Evanston Land Use Commission, which voted 7-2 against rezoning in mid-October.
“It’s been a long process,” Northwestern’s chief operating officer Luke Figora said following the meeting. “I’m looking forward to the next step in the project.”
To sweeten the deal for Evanston, Northwestern pledged $150 million to the city over the next 15 years in a Community Benefits Agreement. The agreement saw NU triple its Good Neighbors Fund to $3 million annually, at least $500,000 each year to Evanston Public Schools and at least $2.5 million in tax revenue for the city every year. The parties also agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding, which will govern Northwestern’s use of the stadium.
“The community benefits package agreed to is a historic transformation of the relationships that we have with this institution,” Biss said following the vote. “It’s completely different than what’s ever happened between this organization and Northwestern for over 150 years. That’s really, really important, and I think it sets a new foundation for a new spirit of collaboration going forward.”
However, there is still plenty of opposition to the project. Public comment slanted heavily against the development, and even though the City Council has voted to approve the renovations, those opponents are planning to continue the fight.
“Tonight, our city government sided with powerful insiders and the billionaire donor who controls Northwestern Athletics, against the families who live in this community,” Most Livable City Association President Dave DeCarlo said in a statement. “It’s been an eye-opening experience: We’ve learned that Mayor Biss is just another politician, making backroom deals to advance his career instead of representing the people who elected him.
“After carefully weighing the evidence, Evanston’s Land Use Commission overwhelmingly rejected commercial rezoning for the stadium. Mayor Biss and four councilmembers completely ignored that evidence and sold our zoning protections to Northwestern. Our fight will continue now as we seek legal recourse.”
Northwestern plans to begin demolition on the old Ryan Field within the next few weeks, and the new Ryan Field is scheduled to open prior to the 2026 football season. It is unclear where the Wildcats will play football for the next two seasons. Per release, more details will be shared regarding timing and the construction process by the university “at a later date.”