Northwestern University has earned criticism over the past week for its response to bombshell hazing allegations against the school’s football program, but several Wilmette residents on Tuesday night directed their ire toward the Evanston institution for its oversight of a different controversial issue.
Ten residents addressed the Wilmette Village Board during its Tuesday, July 11 meeting to express their opposition to the school’s proposed plans to reimagine Ryan Field and urge trustees to dispute potential zoning changes under consideration by Evanston officials.
As previously reported by The Record, the proposed $800 million plan would cut stadium capacity by approximately 12,000 (from 47,000 to 35,000) but would create more communal areas and enable multiple revenue-generating concerts each year.
Amid the hazing fallout, local groups and officials are questioning whether the Ryan Field Rebuild should move forward or be delayed for an indefinite amount of time, according to reporting from the Evanston Roundtable. Any formal action, however, has yet to be made.
Northwestern’s proposal has been met with strong criticism from many south Wilmette residents since plans were first introduced in the fall of last year. Concerns only exacerbated since a community meeting in late June revealed additional details about the school’s vision.
Public commenters on Tuesday night took issue with several aspects of Northwestern’s proposal, including sound levels, potential traffic impact and a perceived negative effect on property values.
And residents are looking for outward support from the Village.
“The commercialization of a property by a nonprofit institution that pays no taxes, that’s going to have that kind of an impact on the taxpayers of Wilmette, it’s unacceptable,” Wilmette resident Andre Defreitas said. “And I think that is something that should be strongly opposed by the town.”
Defreitas told trustees that it was “applauding” the way plans were presented to locals during the June meeting. He also took issue with several of the university’s projections, including the school’s estimates on the number of shuttle bus runs that would be required to transport people in and out of the stadium.
“The logistics don’t work,” he said.
Andrea Smeeton asked trustees to discourage Evanston officials from granting zoning amendments for what she called “a very unnecessary and intrusive entertainment venue.”
“With this new proposed entertainment area, our lives will most certainly be adversely affected for so many reasons,” she said. “Most importantly, so many of the nuances of the building project seem to be right toward Wilmette. Not just our street, but many, many blocks north, east and west of us.”
Smeeton also expressed concern related to a part of the project that would turn Wilmette’s portion of 5th Street into a one-way road.
“The NU request, or suggestion, to make Ashland in Evanston, which turns into 5th Street in Wilmette, a one-way going only north, will claim our street for Northwestern University and the City of Evanston,” she said. “We did not move here to provide a thoroughfare for their entertainment dreams.”
Village Manager Mike Braiman provided community members with a brief update on Wilmette’s ongoing discussions with Evanston related to the project.
Braiman said he met last week with Evanston’s city manager, who informed Braiman that city officials will be working with a third-party firm to review sound and traffic studies that were previously provided by Northwestern.
A timeline of when Wilmette officials will have access to those reports was not offered, but the city manager did say the city is “anticipating and looking forward to reviewing those.”
Braiman also noted that if Wilmette’s Village Board is going to “take action objecting to certain components of the Northwestern proposal,” trustees would likely do so at their Aug. 8 meeting.
“That gives us as much time as we can possibly have to review those additional reports and be as informed as we can when the board takes a position, if we do so,” Braiman said.
Braiman also assured residents that the project is “one of (his) top priorities.”
“I am spending the bulk of my time … on this project, communicating with residents, Evanston officials, Northwestern, and reviewing all the reports, looking at all of our options and talking with our staff and our board,” he said. “So it’s a top priority for us and I want to assure you of that.”
Wilmette’s village manager concluded his comments on the matter by noting that there’s been no shortage of public feedback on Northwestern’s plans.
“I have heard from more people on this topic than anything else since I have been village manager,” he told the public when responding to a resident’s question at the meeting.
“The opposition is loud and clear.”
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.