It’s finally happening (allegedly, and with all the caveats until it’s officially announced): Northwestern is getting a new Ryan Field.
...well, almost. You see, the town-gown relationships in Evanston are never quite so straightforward. This time around—more on that in a second—it was a rezoning of Ryan Field to allow for concerts at the stadium. Earlier this month, the Evanston Planning Commission had recommended approving the Ryan Field construction...but not the rezoning. That’s historically the way this works: before Northwestern gets what it wants, Evanston gets a pound of flesh.
Here’s how it’s part of a grand tradition of shakedowns disguised as “partnerships” in The City That Frances Willard Ruined:
Every few years, the City of Evanston manufactures a crisis related to Northwestern. When I was in school, it was the threatened enforcement of the “brothel law”—a 1960s-era law barring more than three unrelated people from living together without a special permit. Back in 2011-12 after Evanston announced it would enforce the law, to create public outcry, Northwestern opened a partnership office at Evanston Township High School just months after the city quietly dropped its enforcement plans. Over the next five years the school also poured $25 million in construction fees into Evanston coffers as it expanded and modernized its campus.
Need something new? In 2021 Evanston ran it back, getting Northwestern to purchase them an $800,000 fire engine. Hell, purchasing a building for University use in 2004 cost Northwestern $2 million in “donations” after Evanston lawmakers raised hell.
Part of the reason for this is that Northwestern, which predates the City of Evanston, is exempt many of the taxes—particularly property—used to fund local schools. Good gets done with that money, that much is for sure.
More good is being done in the wake of the announcement that New Ryan Field is
Northwestern will now be tripling its commitment to its “Good Neighbor Fund”, sending Evanston $3 million a year and $2 million in tax revenues from concerts—the “convincing”, more or less, to make the rezoning happen—as well as doing an actually-important thing of providing a minimum of $2 million a year in financial aid to Evanston high school students. From the university’s press release:
Northwestern also will plan to distribute $1 million in aggregate per year to local not-for-profits, schools, faith-based institutions and community organizations, and extend the Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grant program, which gives $500,000 annually to organizations that work to establish ambitious local programs that promote racial equity.
Among other commitments put forth by Northwestern in the draft agreement:
* Supported by a $10 million gift from the Ryan family, Northwestern will invest $500,000 annually in local workforce development and upskilling initiatives.
* Northwestern also will guarantee $2 million in annual tax revenues to the city, driven by and assuming concert events occur at Ryan Field.
* Northwestern will guarantee $500,000 in aggregate annually to the two Evanston school districts, supported by a ticket surcharge on all concert tickets at Ryan Field.
* Northwestern will set aside $250,000 in annual support for a signature event to be developed jointly between Northwestern and the city.
* Northwestern will contribute $250,000 a year for the revitalization of downtown Evanston, including support for the downtown clean team.
Northwestern will—finally—get its new, privately-funded stadium, and Evanston will get its usual bribe...just on a much bigger scale. Onto speculating where the ‘Cats will play in 2024 and 2025, right?!
What I love most about all of this is that the City of Evanston is effectively showing where its true loyalties laid all along—in their pockets.
To every pissbaby Evanston resident who went to those meetings and complained about light, complained about noise, and complained about traffic in a neighborhood that has had a Big Ten football stadium since 1924: they never gave a single shit about you. It was always about their bottom line.
Now we’re onto the rebuilding of Northwestern football, I guess—a new stadium in a few years, trimmed down by over 10,000 seats, as well as a new coach.
But most importantly: students get something, and whiny NIMBYers get nothing.