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Israel anniversary to draw 8,000 to arena

A 60th anniversary celebration for the State of Israel is expected to bring more than 8,000 people to Northwestern’s Welch-Ryan Arena Thursday evening, and some Evanston aldermen are concerned about the expense to the city of policing the event.

Aldermen say they first learned of the event during a City Council Rules Committee meeting Monday night.

Evanston police reportedly have been meeting with university officials and event organizers for some time to plan for the occasion. Up to 36 Evanston police officers along with 24 NU police are expected to be on duty at the site.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, whose 7th Ward includes the arena, said, "This will cost Evanston a lot of money, and make Northwestern a lot of money renting out the arena."

The event includes a VIP party in the arena’s "N" Club at 5 p.m. hosted by the Consulate General of Israel in Chicago. It’s expected to draw consular officials from other nations.

The main program for 8,000 registered guests starting at 7 p.m. and includes a speech by Nobel prize winner Elie Wiesel. The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Parking will be prohibited on Ashland Avenue from Central Street to Isabella and on Central Street from Eastwood Avenue to Asbury Street during the event.

A dozen shuttle buses will be used to transport guests from parking lots on the main NU campus, but limited parking will also be available near the arena.

Evanston Police Commander James Elliot, in a memo distributed to aldermen, said police consider the event to pose a "medium threat" of violent incidents as a result of hostility toward Israel by other groups in the Middle East. But he said police have "no specific information relating to nay incident planned for the event."

Elliot said an additional 150 police officers from across northern Illinois will be available to provide crowd control and SWAT team services if needed.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste said he believes City Council approval should be sought for such events, so that "we understand what kind of resources we’re putting out and what kind of liability andresponsibility we’re taking."

Tisdahl suggested the city’s athletic events tax should apply to the event. But city staffers said the tax only applies to events for which an admission fee is charged, and for this event tickets were distributed for free.

Update 5/7/08:

Northwestern University spokesman Alan Cubbage said the university is getting only "a modest rental fee" for the arena.

He said the university only rarely rents the arena to outside groups, because it is heavily used for university activities.

In this case, he said it "was something we were asked to do to be helpful." He said it was his understanding that the Jewish Federation held a similar event at the arena 10 years ago.

Cubbage said he understands the event organizers "are paying us something" for university police officers to work at the event, and that he imagined the city would charge its security expenses to the organization renting the facility as well.

Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington said he’s primarily focused on "providing necessary security for the event."

"We’ll let the accountants work out the details about payment later," the chief said.

He added that many events at the arena, like sporting events and graduation ceremonies "are very formulaic" from a security standpoint, but that "this is kind of off the radar" in part because its sponsored by an outside group. "That’s added a certain cloudiness about who’s responsible for the costs," the chief said.

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