Ald. Clare Kelly (center/at table) chairs City/NU committee on Wednesday evening.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) tells Evanston Now that if a vote on rebuilding Ryan Field were held today, she would vote “no,” unless revisions are made to Northwestern University’s plans for the $800 million stadium project.

Northwestern wants to tear down the century-old Ryan Field and replace it with a new, privately-financed state-of-the-art facility, with 12,000 fewer seats than the current stadium.

A rendering of the proposed new Ryan Field.

About 30 people attended a meeting of the NU/City Committee that Kelly chairs at the Civic Center Wednesday night. Most of those who spoke, or applauded speakers, opposed NU’s proposal.

Several were members of a coalition of five opposing groups, called the “Northwestern Accountability Alliance.”

Aaron Cohen, who lives in the 7th Ward, which is home to the stadium, accused Northwestern of “continued obfuscation” in its presentations on how much noise would be generated by concerts at the new facility, which is scheduled to open in 2026 if City Council votes “yes.”

Project opponent Aaron Cohen.

Noise and parking have been major issues for those objecting to the facility, largely because in addition to football, Northwestern wants to hold concerts at the new stadium.

“Imagine what would happen to our neighbors with all these concerts week after week,” said one resident at the meeting.

Northwestern is now asking for 10 concerts a year, with some of them indoors at the 7,000 seat Welsh-Ryan Arena, where nighttime events such as basketball games are nothing new.

The new Ryan Field would have 35,000 seats, down from 47,000 in the current facility. And NU says its capacity for concerts would be 28,000.

But adding concerts would mean more days with big crowds in the neighborhood.

And one resident said “you cannot compare concerts to football games,” because concerts are louder.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) has scheduled a meeting at 7 p.m. June 27 in the Parasol Room at the Civic Center at which Northwestern officials are to address issues of noise, traffic and concert operations.

Some speakers at the meeting also argued that the tax exempt school should be required to spend big dollars on city issues such as reparations and affordable housing as part of a “community benefits agreement” for the stadium.

The two university representatives on the committee did not attend the meeting.

That angered panel member David Schoenfeld, who said while he “does not necessarily oppose the project altogether,” Northwestern representatives “just not showing up is a new trick.”

One speaker spoke passionately in favor of the stadium project, concerts included.

Kelly Marcelle has lived two-and-a-half blocks from Ryan Field for 24 years, and is a member of the pro-stadium group “Field of Opportunities.”

Project supporter Kelly Marcelle.

Marcelle said one of the Northwestern committee members had a long-standing, out of town family commitment, which is why he was not there.

Marcelle also said a lot of stadium opposition has been “hyped up,” adding, “I think the rebuild is going to be fantastic.”

However, critics are skeptical, including one from adjacent Wilmette, who told the committee “We do not trust Northwestern’s promises.”

Despite the negative comments, a survey sponsored by NU found almost 2:1 support for the Ryan Field project (concerts included). Neighbors living within one mile of the stadium also favored the project by a similar margin.

Opponents have questioned the survey’s methodology and results.

Kelly said she will pass along comments from the meeting to the city’s Land Use Commission, which will review the plan and make recommendations to the City Council, which has final say.

The LUC session is tentatively scheduled for early August, with council action in September, but that could change.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. The objection to the project is not simply about 10 concerts. It is about commercial rezoning and NU’s request to hold “unlimited events” of up to 10,000. It is about the net cost of this project to the entire city, including eviscerating residential zoning protections. Also, please don’t perpetuate the myth of widespread support based on NU’s opinion surveys. That’s like saying McDonald’s found that 95 percent of people it surveyed love Big Macs. Without transparency there can be no trust.

    1. Apparently, Northwestern has the worst luck in the world in hiring experts. According to opponents, its pollster, Impact Research, whose client lists includes Presidents Biden and Obama, allegedly doesn’t know how to conduct and report a public poll. Its economic consultants, Tripp Umbach, with 30 years of experience in conducting economic, social and feasibility studies in economic development, higher education, healthcare and tourism fields, apparently can’t produce an accurate economic impact report. Now, its civil engineers are wrong on the traffic study and its sound engineers are wrong on the noise report. This is an unbelievable run of bad luck for Northwestern. Truly UNBELIEVABLE.

      For readers interested in reading just how wrong the Impact Research poll of Evanston residents on rebuilding Ryan Field is, find the recap here:

      1. I object to Northwestern’s stadium plan, as currently constituted. I’ve got no problem with a new stadium, but they’re trying to impose a massive change on the neighborhood. That poll was not credible, in my opinion. (The questions were framed to get predetermined answers.) And Tripp Umbach’s report is a joke; it projects numbers without any support for them. Also, in presenting it at a ward meeting, the Tripp Umbach consultant repeatedly referred to Evanston as “Evansville.” I mean, the guy had no clue.

      2. Susan, the issue is not the reputable firms that NU hired to produce the reports; the issue is transparency regarding the input data and methodology the firms used. The reports the firms provided were front-loaded–i.e., they (esp. Tripp Umbach and WJHW) were provided with data that was collected by CSL and Henderson, respectively, and designed to produce favorable results (luck has nothing to do with this). That data inputs, including assumptions and methodology, have been kept secret. That is the basis of skepticism. If you think Evanston should embark on the largest development in its history without analytical rigor, then I have a bridge to sell you…

        1. How much intellectual rigor does it take to produce a positive return on an investment of ZERO?

          You accuse NU of producing a flawed economic report. A new one is coming. Will it be close to the potential $100 million in annual economic activity that Tripp Umbach suggests? Don’t know. What I do know is that it’s a long way down from $100 million to zero, and whatever the impact is, it’s sorely needed. All for 10 nights of concerts in an existing space that already accommodates crowds 58% larger than the suggested concert capacity.

          I do hope that at some point, we can move beyond what’s best in my backyard to what’s best for Evanston. My view is that this is the best economic idea that’s been introduced in the thirty years I’ve lived here. You may indeed feel success if you shoot down this proposal from Northwestern. Consider that as you aim for Northwestern, you may hit the rest of us.

          1. It took me 30 minutes to leave the neighborhood (immediately south of the stadium) on Wednesday afternoon as Lincoln and Central were bumper to bumper from Ridge to Green Bay after an NU graduation event. We missed half of my son’s basketball practice because of this.

            Let’s please stop pretending this is a nimby issue and acknowledge the facts that the stadiums location is not suited for these massive for profit events that veer far from the institution’s academic goals and non-profit status! You wanna talk up the cooked numbers but aren’t acknowledging the negative impacts to those most directly impacted by this money grab and false promises (there is nothing guaranteed, nor could they) of good for minorities and the greater community. Their terrible track record in this regard speaks for itself.

  2. ‘“Imagine what would happen to our neighbors with all these concerts week after week,” said one resident at the meeting. ‘

    That is not hard to do. Look at Ravinia which has many more than 10 concerts per year and look at the residential neighborhood in which it is embedded. It seems to work out just fine.

    Also consider the summer concerts at Canal Shores. Those make noise and generate traffic, but it is well worth it. Cultural attractions are going to generate traffic and sometimes noise. Evanston is not and should be be a bedroom community where keeping traffic and noise down has priority over cultural attractions, IMO.

    1. Please let’s keep comparing this to Ravinia, which has an average capacity of 5,000 and max at 15,000 if the entire facility is standing room only (ever been to one of those events? Me neither, because they don’t allow them.) Out of Space is 3,500 people.

      It’s not just the 35,000 person concerts, it’s all the other 10,000 person events that they want to add that will make the neighborhood and city Unlivable.

      As a Mr. Austin recently posted on the RT “It would not only change the character of one particular R1 neighborhood but create a precedent that puts any and all R1 neighborhoods in potential jeopardy. It is not a matter of My Back Yard or Your Back Yard but simply of all neighbors respecting Everybody’s Back Yard in what Evanston residents cherish as our livable city. That’s what Zoning accomplishes.”

    2. Please don’t conflate 28,000 capacity concerts in our residential neighborhood with Ravina. Different demographic for concert attendance, community governing board for community concerns, and a HUGE parking lot to accommodate concert attendees. NU is has 1400 spots for 28000 attendees unless those are spots are all filled with buses, that’s not enough parking…..NU proposal includes no guarantees to make changes based on issues that arise. After decades of working through very real issues with Ravina neighbors, it works, now. Canal Shores is 4500 attendees. Also comparing kiwis to bananas. No one is proposing a bedroom community. Have you been to Central St or Green Bay road? 2 fire stations and a hospital, EL and Metra…its not quiet. Doesn’t mean we don’t want to be able to park in front of our own house, have company on summer weekends or sit on our deck without hearing music.
      And since you can hear Canal Shores clearly in the Central and Green Bay neighborhood – which is much further away and much quieter than Ryan field would be…..really don’t need a link for that fact.

    3. I moved in next to a football stadium, fully expecting 6-7 games/year plus various graduation ceremonies, all of which add a vibrancy to our neighborhood. I did not, as did EVERY Ravinia neighbor, move in next to a concert venue. BIG difference.

    4. Um. Traffic is backed up down lake cook to the highway. If you live there you could be stuck for hours for miles of radius

    5. All but one restaurant closed in Ravinia after Levy started offering food in the venue and people stopped eating out or buying ravinia picnic baskets from local business.

      Levy promised Highland Park that local restaurants would be allowed to sell food at the festival, but all the restaurants actually there are owned by Levy.

      NU also wants to put Levy in charge of food at the stadium and give them the authority to “approve” local restaurants asking to serve food at the stadium.

      Also have you been to Ravinia and Highland Park lately? It’s a ghost town! Especially compared to neighbouring Highwood.

    6. I live near Central Street now, but grew up as an immediate neighbor to Ravinia and on one of the traffic corridors and my family still has the house there. Ravinia is universally embraced by its neighbors and most like hearing the sound of its music events, and being able to walk to the events that interest them. Yes, the Ravinia neighbors need to plan around the traffic a bit when coming or going on a concert night, but it is not challenging if you plan your timing and route.

      I think the sound of concerts at Ryan will be largely accepted and enjoyed by the neighbors who are not complete curmudgeons (the music at Ryan will probably largely reflect North Shore tastes, as that would largely be the clientele). Given the Ryan suburban neighborhood location, I would suggest that it would be reasonable and commercially viable to contract for concerts to end on the early side like at Ravinia.

      I would accept a large number of 10,000 person events at Ryan based on the fact that they have a large parking lot. My only issue would be with stadium events being as large as 35,000 as I would question where all these people would park. Can the project still be commercially viable if max attendance was reduced to 25,000?

      Go Cats!

      1. Ravinia has more parking spots in just one of its parking lots (2,000, according to this site: than are available for Welsh-Ryan and the rebuilt Ryan Field (1,365, the same NU has now, see

        The more comparable venues in terms of seating capacity—which is what dictates what kind of acts perform, since the goal is to sell out—are Wrigley Field (41,649) and the United Center (23,500). Here’s a recent write-up of noise from last night’s Wrigley concert (the United Center is enclosed):

  3. I am in agreement that NW can & should offer more to Evanston in terms of resouces & financial payments for the requested zoning changes. If they do offer an attractive package, then Evanston should definitely say yes.

    Why? D65 finances are a mismanaged mess, we’ve tens of millions of dollars in captial repairs needed, & we’ve the albatross of previous generations overpromising pension benefits to name just a few financial concerns. If/when NW wants to pitch in & help with such issues, then it’s a strong yes to permitting the stadium renovation on my part.

  4. Not surprise about Kelly, it appears she voted NO on most items. The surprise to me is that she was interviewed by Chicago Magazine about the stadium and it is not in her ward.

  5. We live a block away from the stadium. It’s true that game days and graduations are an inconvenience. In theory, I am fine with the stadium project, but Northwestern doesn’t seem willing to even acknowledge our difficulties on those days. We should all have permit parking, regular monitoring of illegal parking during events, clean up after events and Northwestern should donate money to the community.

    1. Agree that permit parking and aggressive enforcement all over (two or three block radius) is essential to protect rights of homeowners.

      Also agree that the contract with city should stipulate that NU provide a cleanup patrol of surrounding streets.

  6. I’m an NU grad from back in ‘80s when there were no issues with the stadium because the football team stunk (Interstate 94, Northwestern 0). At first I was excited about the new stadium. It’s part football, part entertainment with luxury seating. This seems to be a trend for new sports venues, including universities (e.g., Duke’s remodel of Wallace Wade). As I have followed the back and forth on the stadium, I have come to agree that the concerts with alcohol are very objectionable and should be dropped from the plans. Scale back the cost of the new stadium or come up with a different architectural design (personally I want to return the stadium to the glory of the original James Gamble Rogers design taking from Roman baths).

    Now here comes the Evanston bashing part. The City, both politicians and community groups, are openly using the stadium approval to extort money from Northwestern, under cover of PILOT and other veneers. Despite Morton Schapiro’s significant investment in the City over his 13 year tenure, there has been zero improvement in town/gown relations. Because the money is never enough for Evanston.

    Evanston has made what should be a zoning and neighborhood matter into blackmail, plain and simple.

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