Cows and Swiss cheese.
Those were two of the terms used to describe the $100 million, ten-year Community Benefits Agreement package that Northwestern University is proposing in return for City Council approval of a new Ryan Field football stadium, which would also hold up to six concerts a year.
With council’s final vote scheduled for Monday, about 100 people, in person and online, urged three council members Thursday night to table the decision and try to negotiate a better deal.
“What’s the hurry,” said one speaker at the Monday listening session, sponsored by Alders Devon Reid, Krissie Harris and Bobby Burns.
“Why does this have to be decided now?”
Many of the comments were similar to what’s been heard before — NU can’t be trusted, the $10 million a year for various city and community projects over ten years is not enough and the Memorandum of Understanding proposed by NU gives the university all of the advantages.
Jim Froberg, an attorney, held up a copy of the proposed deal and said “this agreement would not pass Contract Law 101 in any law school.”
Another critic said the MOU is actually an “M-O-O. Sign it,” she said, “and you are cows going to slaughter.”
And yet another speaker said the deal has so many holes in it that it resembles Swiss cheese.
The purpose of the session, however, was not to hear snappy phrases, but rather, said the council members, to gather input on what changes, if any, could be made in the agreement.
One citizen’s proposal was to extend the term, so Northwestern would keep paying something after the 10 years in the deal are up.
Another call was for more specific definition of the term “reasonable,” which appears several times in the document, calling for NU to provide “reasonable” plans for things such as security.
The three alders who held the meeting were among the five (including Mayor Daniel Biss, who broke a 4-4 tie) who voted to advance the concert rezoning to the next and final vote.
(Approval for the new, $800 million stadium itself was sent along 5-3, but NU has said a rebuilt football field is contingent on approval of concerts).
Burns (5th) said “we’re not negotiating with a gun to our head. We want input. We have not said we’ll sign it” as is.
“There isn’t a council member who said we’ll blindly accept the first draft,” he added.
Public meetings about the Ryan Field rebuild have tended to attract critics and opponents, and this session was no different.
There was one speaker, however, who said he lives 500 feet from the stadium, he’ll be “happy to enjoy the concerts,” and any money from Northwestern in a Community Benefits deal is “gravy that’s being added” to a facility that already generates dollars for Evanston.