Tense exchanges, overtime, a late tie: Evanston City Council’s first read of Northwestern’s Ryan Field plans on Monday played out just like a heavyweight clash.
And like those bouts, something had to give. On Monday, Mayor Daniel Biss delivered the decisive blow, a “yes” vote to break a 4-4 tie and move forward a proposal to allow for concerts at a rebuilt NU stadium.
Voting for the concerts were Biss, Krissie Harris, Jonathan Nieuwsma, Bobby Burns and Devon Reid, while Eleanor Revelle, Thomas Suffredin, Clare Kelly and Melissa Wynne were against. Juan Geracaris, an NU employee, was not present.
Biss’ tiebreaker capped an eight-hour session that concluded around 1:30 a.m. on Halloween morning. The council will reconvene on Nov. 13 to give NU’s rezoning application final consideration.
The council also passed NU’s plans to reconstruct Ryan Field with a 5-3 vote. Wynne was the sole councilmember who split on the votes.
The rezoning proposal to allow for the concerts came to the City Council with a negative recommendation from the city’s Land Use Commission. But before councilmembers voted on the item, Nieuwsma proposed a number of amendments, which were approved. Among the amendments (Read all amendments here) are parking, sound and traffic standards and penalties for violating those standards.
During the session, the council heard more than three hours of public comment prior to its deliberations. According to the Evanston Roundtable, speakers opposing the concerts outpaced supporters nearly 3 to 1 (70 to 25).
The Roundtable also reported that early in the proceedings a physical altercation began between two guests — an older white man and younger Black man. The fight reportedly was quickly broken up. It is unclear why it began.
NU’s last-minute play
Not long before the meeting, Northwestern University released details on a substantial community benefits package that proposes to contribute $100 million to the City of Evanston.
The proposal, which is contingent on City Council approval of the Ryan Field rebuild and rezoning measures, is a 10-year deal that would annually give $3 million to the city’s Good Neighbor Fund (supports racial equity), $2 million in financial aid to Evanston high school students, and $1 million to local nonprofits and other community organizations, among other contributions.
Northwestern will also guarantee $2 million in annual tax revenue to the city, if the measures pass.
Northwestern has estimated that the new stadium and its concerts would generate close to $700 million in “economic impact” to Evanston, while creating 2,900 jobs and $12 million in fees to Evanston.
Background and Wilmette’s involvement
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.
Ryan Field is located about two blocks from Wilmette’s southern border at Isabella Street. Many Wilmette residents were quick to organize against Northwestern’s plans for the stadium, crying foul over potential negative effects, such as noise and congestion, on the neighborhood. Opposition also challenged Northwestern’s claims and studies related to those issues.
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 also wrote that the university is also no longer asking for text to allow for unlimited 10,000-person events.
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