Opposition within Wilmette to Northwestern University’s plans to redevelop Ryan Field is growing stronger by the day, and the Village Board will consider taking formal action against the Evanston institution’s project at its next meeting, Village President Senta Plunkett announced at the board’s Tuesday, July 25 session.
According to Plunkett, trustees will vote during their Aug. 8 meeting on a resolution objecting to the zoning changes in Evanston, which would allow concerts to take place at Ryan Field under NU’s plans to reimagine the stadium and its grounds.
Plunkett added that she will present the resolution personally to Evanston officials at the city’s plan commission meeting on Aug. 23 and will also do so at a future Evanston City Council meeting.
“We understand your concerns, we share your concerns,” Plunkett said to residents, noting the village has received more than 200 emails regarding the matter.
“I’ve been in meetings formally with Evanston officials, council members and staff as well as Northwestern. Next week, I have further meetings with Mayor (Daniel) Biss and Alderman (Eleanor) Revelle (7th Ward) and I will continue to share all of your concerns.”
As previously reported by The Record, the Evanston university first brought forward an $800 million plan last fall that 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.
Following bombshell hazing allegations against the university’s football program, some local advocacy groups and officials called for the Ryan Field Rebuild to be delayed, according to reporting from the Evanston Roundtable. But no formal action from the city or the university has been taken as of publication time.
Northwestern’s proposal has been met with strong criticism from many south Wilmette residents since plans were first introduced, and concerns have only exacerbated in the following months since additional details about the school’s vision have been revealed.
Wilmette residents once again packed Village Hall on July 25 to express adamant opposition to the prospect of concerts being held at Ryan Field.
Fourteen residents addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting, sharing a host of hesitations about the project, including traffic, parking, noise pollution, diminished property values and more.
“Today, the village faces an existential threat from a bully on its southern border,” said resident Steven Harper, who’s lived in Wilmette for more than three decades.
In addition to criticizing aspects of the proposal that he described as dangerous noise pollution with no viable transportation plan, Harper said “the performance venue masquerading as a part-time college football stadium will destroy Wilmette’s quality of life.”
Richard Levy said the proposal would do “too much harm” to the community and added that large concerts will take away from the neighborhood feel of the area.
“We can’t allow Northwestern to diminish the splendid character of our village for 150 years,” he said.
Eric Weiss, who said he lived in Evanston prior to moving to Wilmette, criticized the neighboring city for its inconsideration toward the village.
“Evanston is concerned with Evanston, as evidenced by Evanston’s acceptance of the rationale that we’re simply going to turn the stadium toward Wilmette and that will solve all of our noise problems,” he said. “It’s jaw-dropping that we’re even thinking about allowing large-scale concerts. This is mayhem.”
Weiss added that he thinks the village is being too passive about its objection.
“We’re kind of just waiting and seeing what this noise survey comes up with before we decide to object to it,” he said. “I think being a little more active in our opposition to what’s going on is really incumbent on us and our preservation of Wilmette as a great place to live.”
Resident John Powers was the only commenter who showed a resemblance of support toward the potential project while also reiterating some of the same concerns of his neighbors. Powers encourage the board to take part in a “goodwill negotiation.”
“I’m 100 percent in favor of a manageable event day,” he said. “I think we need to work on the process to make things work rather than just saying there’s no way to possibly manage this.”
Wilmette Village Manager Mike Braiman again reaffirmed the town’s focus on sharing feedback with Evanston regarding Northwestern’s proposal.
“This has now become my top priority where I spend most of my time in terms of engaging with residents, engaging with Evanston as well as Northwestern officials to try to advocate on your behalf as I, too, share your concerns and the concerns of our community regarding the impacts of concerts proposed at Ryan Field,” he said.
Wilmette is currently waiting on receiving third party sound and traffic and parking reviews from Evantson, which should be completed later this week, Braiman said. He also added that Wilmette may also conduct its own studies.
“If we do need to consider additional studies initiated by the village, we’re willing to do so,” he said, noting that officials first want to see the reports from Evanston before making a decision.
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.