A new community group supporting Northwestern University’s plans to rebuild Ryan Field announced its formation today.

Peggy Baxter, a member of the new “Field of Opportunities” group, says she lives right next to the stadium and can see Welch-Ryan Arena out her window.

She said she’s been really excited about the school’s plans for the project, including holding concerts at the stadium and the arena.

“When I listen to neighbors opposed to the project,” Baxter added, “What I hear is objections to the positive impacts it could have on Northwestern. I’ve never been focused on that — that’s almost entirely irrelevant. What matters to me is how the community stands to benefit.”

Baxter said there’s no other development opportunity on the table that promises to be as enduringly beneficial as the new stadium. “It will have benefits way beyond the 7th Ward,” she added.

A graphic from “Field of Opportunities” website.

More than 100 people have already offered their names in support of the group which is also seeking more supporters.

Raju Ghate, an orthopedic surgeon at NorthShore University HealthSystem, says he’s lived a block south of the stadium for almost 18 years.

He says there “are a lot of myths in the neighborhood about what happens on game days.”

“One of those myths that’s always out there is that there are people urinating on people’s lawns,” Ghate said. “We just don’t see that. It’s an idea that’s been exaggerated beyond belief.”

Cheryl Judice, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston, says, “Running a business, anything we can do to attract more business to Evanston, particularly coming out of the pandemic, I’m all for it.”

“I’m dismayed when I go downtown at how fragile the business community looks, ” Judice said, “We need to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Kimberly Holmes-Ross, interim executive director of Evanston Cradle to Career, who was born and raised in the 5th Ward and now lives in the 2nd Ward, said she’s “super excited” about all the possibilities that the stadium brings to the city for business and for recreation.

Former Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty, who lives less than a mile east of the stadium, said it would be a lost opportunity for the entire city if the project doesn’t go through, and he urged residents who support the project to contact their council members to show their support.

Hagerty noted that the City Council voted 5-4 while he was mayor to let the university test holding special events at Welch Ryan arena. But after that test was sidetracked by the pandemic, the current council voted 8-1 not to give the university an extension of time for the experiment.

“This can be a great benefit to the city,” Hagerty said, adding that the the concerns about parking and noise can be addressed by the university.

“I don’t want to see this decision drawn out by the city while more businesses are going out of business,” Hagerty added. “We need more economic activity, and this project will provide it.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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