Wilmette, Community

Wildcats fans can own a piece of Ryan Field at Rebuilding Exchange in Evanston

(Editor’s Note: This story was reported by Ann Hiatt and originally published by the Evanston Roundtable, a neighboring independent newsroom. It was shared with The Record as part of an ongoing collaborative effort.)

As demolition of Ryan Field continued last week, some stadium memorabilia faced a happier fate. After spending an intense week deconstructing and transporting pieces of the stadium back to their warehouse, Evanston’s Rebuilding Exchange opened its sale of salvaged seats, signs, helmets and a wide variety of other paraphernalia on Friday morning.

The community’s interest caught the staff working the first day of the Ryan Field sale by surprise. They were “wholly unprepared” for the flood of orders, said store manager Alexia Windsor – but in a good way. More than 10 people lined up to buy items as soon as the store opened at 10 a.m. By just after noon, more than 100 online orders and 22 in-person sales had raised a record amount for the nonprofit. Signs were selling especially fast, and the staff were moving quickly to attach “sold” labels on items that had been claimed online.

“All the meetings, calls and additional work paid off in the first two hours,” said Zach Share, Rebuilding Exchange’s marketing manager. For the scrappy nonprofit, this cash influx is a big deal and goes a long way toward helping the organization achieve its stated mission: “to keep materials out of landfills, train and support an inclusive workforce in the building trades and use our two Chicagoland stores to surprise and inspire customers with ever-changing inventory and inventive workshops.”

Women buying Ryan Field sign at cash register of Rebuilding Exchange
Rebuilding Exchange store manager Alexia Windsor said they were “wholly unprepared” for the flood of orders, but in a good way.

The sale is part of a wider agreement hammered out last year with Northwestern University. In September, the university committed to investing $200,000 in the Rebuilding Exchange “to help recruit more Evanston residents into workforce training programs — expanding access to certification programs, career exposure and job placement services to more Evanston residents.”

In late November, the City Council voted to allow the new stadium project and rezoning to proceed. In the ordinance granting a special use for the planned development, Northwestern pledged to prioritize working with minority and women-owned businesses and businesses based in Evanston for contracting and design services, specifically citing Rebuilding Exchange. Three months later, in mid-February, demolition began.  

For Rebuilding Exchange, this first phase of the project has offered “a deconstruction learning opportunity for our transitional employment crew,” according to the nonprofit’s Ryan Field sale announcement. 

Northwestern graduate Hannah Russell heard about the sale from an alumni network, which emailed the day before inviting former students to “come own a piece” of Ryan Field. Russell, who’d been part of Northwestern’s marching band and performed on Ryan Field, had her heart set on a sign. Most of those on display were out of her price range or had already been sold to online shoppers. Share, Rebuilding Exchange’s marketing manager, disappeared and Russell pulled out her phone to scan the inventory. A few minutes later, he reappeared  with a sign for section 128-129. At $150 It was a little over her budget, but Russell and her mother hurried to the cash register to pay before an online shopper snagged it.

“We’re always excited for the opportunity to deconstruct and salvage materials,” Share said, adding that working with a local partner like Northwestern to save materials from the landfill made this an especially rewarding project.

Within the next couple of weeks, Rebuilding Exchange hopes to price and post all items. They don’t have the ability to handle shipping in addition to the work of processing and pricing, so all items are pickup only. And continuing their collaboration, the nonprofit and Northwestern will co-host an information session about construction careers and work opportunities on the Ryan Field project from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, March 6.

Evanston RoundTable

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