Evanston aldermen voted 6-3 late Monday to introduce a zoning ordinance change that would permit Northwestern University to host commercial events at its Welsh-Ryan Arena for a maximum of 13 days in each of the next two years.
Assuming no aldermen change their votes, the measure is likely to be given final approval at the City Council’s next meeting, on Monday, Nov. 11.
Numerous opponents and some supporters of the plan spoke during public comment at the Council meeting and at the Planning and Development Committee meeting earlier in the evening where the measure was also discussed.
Alderman Eleanor Revelle, whose 7th Ward includes the sports complex, said adding more events would set a bad precedent. She said the new events would have attendance equivalent to men’s basketball games, which, she said, disrupt access to parking for neighbors.
Tom Suffredin, in his first term on the Council as 6th Ward alderman, claimed NU has proven to be consistently untrustworthy and said the City Council has repeatedly “rolled over” for the school.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, disputed Suffredin’s claim, saying nobody on the council has rolled over for Northwestern.
Fiske, who over the years has challenged numerous university proposals, said there’s been a real improvement in the school’s attitude toward the city in recent years.
She said NU had been “extremely responsive” in revising its events proposal to address neighborhood concerns.
She said it represents an opportunity that’s worth trying, and “in two years, if it doesn’t work — then it ends.”
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, agreed that it was worth testing the proposal. He called for developing measurable parameters to use in evaluating whether it works out.
The plan calls for capping attendance at the events at 7,000 people. Plans for each event would be reviewed in advance by a city staff committee to address parking, crowd control and other issues.