Northwestern University’s proposal to add concerts to a renovated Ryan Field hit a roadblock Wednesday night when Evanston’s Land Use Commission gave the plan a negative recommendation.
It took a while — about 15 hours spread across three meetings — but land use commissioners finally got to vote Oct. 11. Commissioners unanimously backed the Ryan Field rebuild but were 7-2 against rezoning that would allow for up to six concerts per year at the stadium about two blocks south of Wilmette’s border.
During the meeting NU’s Dale Davis, the school’s executive director of neighborhood and community relations, said Northwestern will not move forward with a stadium rebuild without concerts being a part of it.
“The stadium project that we propose is inextricably linked to the approval of a text amendment that permits a limited number of concerts,” Davis said. “This project cannot and will not move forward without this approval.”
The Land Use decision is a setback for NU but it does not doom the project. The Evanston City Council will make the final determination on the proposal but it is not clear when the measure may find space on the council’s agenda.
The Wilmette Village Board on Aug. 8 voted to formally oppose concerts at a rebuilt Ryan Field, and Village officials delivered its opposition in writing and in person during City of Evanston proceedings.
The original plan for Ryan Field was to build a new “world-class” venue that would host a limited number of concerts in the 35,000-person stadium. NU later announced that number was 10, and in its zoning application to the City of Evanston, it hoped to remove any restriction on the quantity of large-scale events it could hold.
Amid backlash from Wilmette as well as plenty of Evanston residents and groups, a letter from NU President Michael Schill on Aug. 17 announced that the school was amending its zoning application to request six concerts per year. Schill wrote that the university is also no longer asking for text to allow for unlimited 10,000-person events.
Other changes included: the reduction of “community-based” events to 60 per year; and an increase in contributions to the Evanston community, such as a $2 million revenue guarantee to the City and a ticket surcharge that would benefit Evanston Public Schools.
The grassroots organization Most Livable City Association celebrated the Land Use Commission’s decision, releasing this statement following Wednesday’s meeting:
“We’re pleased the Land Use Commission rejected Northwestern’s plan to impose radical change on residential neighborhoods. When questioned last night by commissioners, University officials struggled to articulate why the cash-flush school needs to turn Ryan Field and its other athletic facilities into a commercial entertainment complex. The commissioners wisely recognized this — as well as the costs it would impose on the community — and voted the proposal down.”
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