In an unexpected turn of events, the Evanston City Council voted to table its final vote on whether to approve rezoning to allow for concerts at a rebuilt Ryan Field at Northwestern University.
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss made the announcement at the start of the meeting on Monday, Nov. 13, two weeks after the controversial proposal’s first reading was approved with a 5-4 vote during an eight-hour meeting that ended in the early morning hours of Oct. 31. Biss cast the swing vote.
Biss said the reason for the delay request was to review updated documents, including the latest memorandum of understanding between the City and Northwestern, that had only been received by the City Council on Monday afternoon.
The Ryan Field measures, which the Village of Wilmette opposes, will now be on the council’s agenda for a special meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 20.
Councilperson Jonathan Nieuwsma, who made the motion to table the final vote, said he wanted to ensure that everything was accurate before voting for final approval.
“I just want to make sure that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, and there’s no typos,” he said, adding that he wanted to take two weeks to look it over as a way of preventing “pain and anxiety in the long run” for the City.
“I thought two weeks ago, we had a pretty good deal,” said Nieuwsma, who supported the concerts in the October vote. “The deal we have in front of us tonight is 75 percent better than that deal.”
Councilperson Clare Kelly, who voted against the concerts, supported tabling the vote.
“I would like to see us have a process of publicly designating how we’re negotiating this between now and next week,” she said, with the remainder of her statement being drowned out by applause from the audience.
Kelly went on to say that she “feel(s) disenfranchised” by the process, and that she “certainly think(s) that the residents deserve strong representation at the table to get the very best deal possible.”
But the vote to table wasn’t unanimous, with Councilperson Devon Reid, a supporter of the concerts, arguing that a delay could harm the deal that’s been negotiated. He said inflation could end up impacting the deal.
“I think it would be a mistake for us to table this,” Reid said. “I think it would be a mistake for us to lose this deal.”
In a show of the division among the Evanston community, some of Reid’s comments were also drowned out by applause.
Reid and Councilperson Krissie Harris voted against tabling, while all other councilmembers present voted in favor of it.
Councilperson Juan Geracaris was absent from the vote. An NU employee, Geracaris was also absent from the first vote two weeks prior.
Although the final vote was tabled, about two dozen people spoke on the concerts during public comment, with their comments being a mix of support and opposition.
Resident Peter Kelly said he believes the concerts will help funding of pensions for the police and fire departments.
“Concerts can serve as a stable, long-term source of previously unbudgeted revenues that can help the council fulfill its recent long-term pension funding commitments,” he said.
Fellow resident David DeCarlo, an organizer with the anti-stadium Most Livable City Association, supported the continuance.
“I would please ask you to take the time to pause on this, even as much as is necessary,” he said.
Almost as soon as NU announced its plans in September 2022 to overhaul Ryan Field and allow concerts at the venue, opposition began to form, particularly in southeastern Wilmette. The opposition included the Wilmette Board of Trustees, which unanimously voted to oppose the project.
Additionally, Evanston’s Land Use Commission voted 7-2 on Oct. 11 to give Northwestern’s rezoning proposal a negative recommendation.
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Peter Kaspari is a blogger and a freelance reporter. A 10-year veteran of journalism, he has written for newspapers in both Iowa and Illinois, including spending multiple years covering crime and courts. Most recently, he served as the editor for The Lake Forest Leader. Peter is also a longtime resident of Wilmette and New Trier High School alumnus.