To say Wilmette had interest in the plans for Northwestern’s Ryan Field is an understatement.
Throughout the past year, since Northwestern announced in September 2022 its $800 proposal to rebuild and rezone its football stadium, Wilmette residents and officials have fought the project, specifically NU’s rezoning request that would allow for concerts at the venue just two blocks south of Wilmette’s border. Village Manager Mike Braiman said the issue drew the most feedback of any since he’s worked in Village Hall, while public discussions on the topic brought standing-room-only crowds into Wilmette’s council chambers.
So it’s not surprising that much of the community was focused in as Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss cast the decisive vote on Monday, Nov. 20, that made NU’s plans a reality. The decision was the final step for the City of Evanston, marking the end of an arduous and intense public review process.
But it’s not over until it’s over, and Wilmette parties are exploring their options to mount a comeback.
“The Village is extremely disappointed with the vote to allow concerts at Ryan Field,” Braiman said via text message. “Wilmette residents will be adversely impacted by the concerts and the Village continues to monitor the situation to determine how best to appropriately advocate for our residents.”
The Village of Wilmette approved a resolution in August formally objecting to the rezoning of Ryan Field, and Village President Senta Plunkett appeared before the Evanston City Council multiple times during the lengthy review process to deliver the objection.
Wilmette’s resolution opposing the potential project argues that Northwestern’s proposal would negatively impact more than 500 Wilmette households and called the concert request “a gross infringement upon the quiet enjoyment of Wilmette residents’ property and will forever change the character of the residential neighborhood in which the Northwestern athletic campus resides.”
Even before the Evanston City Council made its decision Monday, the possibility of litigation from private and public parties was well-known. During the council’s session, Councilmember Tom Suffredin asked the city’s attorney about the ramifications of a lawsuit filed by the Village of Wilmette.
Braiman said at this point any Village Board discussions about Ryan Field would take place in executive session. According to the Open Meetings Act, public-board conversations about “filed … probable … or imminent” litigation impacting that board may occur in closed session. Braiman also said the Village is aware of probable lawsuits filed by private parties.
“We understand there will be private lawsuits filed to stop the concerts and we’ll be closely monitoring those proceedings to help us weigh whether or not it is prudent for the Village to take legal action,” he wrote.
At least one group has already implied its desire to file a lawsuit.
The Most Livable City Association, a leading voice in the fight against Ryan Field’s plans, saw the writing on the wall, releasing a statement late Monday evening prior to the ending of the Evanston City Council’s meeting. In the statement, the group accused Biss of “making backroom deals” and committed to keeping its fight going.
“After carefully weighing the evidence, Evanston’s Land Use Commission overwhelmingly rejected commercial rezoning for the stadium. Mayor Biss and four councilmembers completely ignored that evidence and sold our zoning protections to Northwestern,” the statement reads. “Our fight will continue now as we seek legal recourse.”
Advocates for the the Ryan Field plans, of which there were plenty, touted the economic benefits of the new stadium and its possibilities. Along with the rezoning, the City Council approved an agreement with Northwestern that will provide to Evanston about $10 million per year in various benefits over the next 15 years. The deal includes funds earmarked to support local education, affordable housing and racial equity, among other causes.
Not everyone in Wilmette is excited for a continued fight.
The morning after the Evanston City Council made its decision Wilmette resident Ted Marshall, who lives near Ryan Field and has opposed the plans, walked out to his yard and removed his objection yard sign. He feels that it is over.
He said a lot of good has and will come from vocal opposition and that can be a silver lining.
“Let it go. What’s the point (in more fighting),” he told The Record. “(NU) got a clear mandate and decision on both issues (the rebuild and the rezoning). I don’t see the point in fighting. It was a good fight. We have to learn to live it.”
That’s not to say that Marshall is moving forward unaffected. This process has changed the longtime Northwestern fan. He said it reminded him of stereotypical Chicago politics — with NU’s increasing community benefits package that kept sweetening the deal.
The feeling will be hard to shake.
“My opinion of Northwestern has been altered forever I think,” Marshall said. “It made it look like the fix was in. I’m not going to move out because of this. I still enjoy living here and have great neighbors, but I don’t see myself being a customer at the new Ryan Field. That’s probably how this has changed me. I don’t have that feeling of connection that I once did.”
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