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New Ryan Field update: The status of Northwestern’s new stadium

As the Wildcats look to construct a new facility, it faces many roadblocks from the surrounding Evanston community.

SPORTS-FBC-NORTHWESTERN-LAWSUIT-TB Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

In the midst of multiple scandals that have rocked Northwestern Athletics, there is still one issue that NU has been facing for the past year: building the new Ryan Field. 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. With the Evanston Land Commission voting on the project in five days, the first major hurdle for the renovation to clear, here is everything you need to know about the new Ryan Field.

The Basics

In late September 2022, 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 NU 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 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 NU could host an unlimited number of events of under 10,000 people. In a letter to the Evanston community on Thursday, 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.

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 on Thursday, Schill said NU would limit the number of community events in the Stadium and plaza to 60 days a year.

Hoping to gain support from the community, Northwestern released a study that said the new stadium will bring in tens of millions of dollars more than the current stadium; furthermore, NU says its goal is for 35% 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," Northwestern does not pay tax on the revenue it collects from the stadium. With the university proposing to hold concerts at the new venue, residents wanted assurances that the community would see the benefits of the increased revenue. On Thursday, Schill laid out NU’s financial plan to help Evanston. He said NU would guarantee $2 million to the city, and surcharges on concert tickets will provide $50,000 to local Evanston schools. Schill added that NU will host a $250,000 event each year “that will benefit our entire community as directed by city leadership.”

Furthermore, in light of recent allegations of hazing inside the football program and the subsequent termination of Pat Fitzgerald, whether NU 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 on Thursday, lowering the number of events it originally asked to hold; however, some community organizers are still not satisfied and have concerns.

“Northwestern knows it is losing the battle of public opinion,” David DeCarlo, president of the Most Livable City Association, said in a statement. “So they sprung this updated proposal less than a week before the Land Use Commission hearing with their characteristic stealth. 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 NU’s quest to remake entire neighborhoods and disrupt life in Evanston and beyond.”

What’s Next?

The New Ryan Field is scheduled for its first vote on Aug. 23, in front of the Evanston Land Use Commission. Northwestern will seek to change the zoning of the stadium to a for-profit venue, allowing the stadium to host concerts. If the vote passes, the stadium would be up for a vote by the Evanston City Council in September. If the council votes to approve the stadium, which is still a major if, NU can begin demolition of the current stadium and construction of the new facility. It is widely speculated that Northwestern plans to tear down the current stadium at the conclusion of the 2023 football season.