A rendering of the planned new Ryan Field.

“Concerts are a non-starter.”

That’s the message from an organizer a group opposing large, non-football events at a rebuilt Ryan Field at Northwestern University.

NU plans to tear down the current, century-old football stadium and replace it with a smaller (35,000 seats vs. 47,000 now), state-of-the-art, privately financed $800 million facility.

But the university says such a facility “cannot be financially viable on just seven football games” per year.

So the plan also includes up to twelve concerts annually.

David DeCarlo says “not so fast.”

DeCarlo and some of his neighbors who live near the stadium have organized a group called the “Most Livable City Association,” a take-off on the City of Evanston’s stated vision.

Adding concerts, DeCarlo says, with traffic, noise, and a reasonable chance of drunken concert-goers filling the streets, would make the area near Ryan Field anything but livable.

In a news release outlining formation of the group, DeCarlo accuses Northwestern of trying to “turn Ryan Field into a tax-exempt booze-and-entertainment center.”

“Our view,” he tells Evanston Now, “is that those concerts don’t belong at the stadium.”

Fiona McCarthy is another neighbor who has joined the group.

“I can see the stadium from my front door,” she says.

McCarthy adds that she “likes the football games. It’s a collegiate atmosphere.”

But adding concerts, she notes, could turn the Ryan Field neighborhood into another Wrigleyville, the night-life-centric part of Chicago surrounding Wrigley Field.

In 2022, Wrigley Field hosted 81 Cubs home baseball games and five concerts.

McCarthy used to live in Wrigleyville before moving to Evanston.

She says having concerts at Ryan Field could create a risk for neighborhood children.

Her group’s goal, she says, is “continued engagement” with NU and with city officials, “and not just have Northwestern slip something in and getting it OK’d.”

Not everyone who lives near Ryan Field opposes the concerts.

In a recent virtual 7th Ward meeting, one resident said on the chat that “I’m overjoyed. Love the additional functionality and uses envisioned. Can’t come soon enough.”

Northwestern notes the new stadium would have a canopy to minimize noise and light spreading into the nearby community.

And, besides bringing more activities to Evanston, Northwestern says the new stadium will also bring something else … money.

NU says concerts could see more than $35 million in tax revenue for the city in the first decade of stadium operations, not to mention millions of additional dollars from construction.

DeCarlo says, however, with all the money Northwestern gets from the Big Ten television network, “Northwestern can do the stadium for football without the concerts.”

The neighborhood organization calls its lobbying campaign “Field of Schemes,” and hopes to convince Northwestern and the City Council, which has final say on if and how the new stadium can be built, to modify the plan for concerts.

Northwestern’s target schedule has one more football season at the current Ryan Field, then demolition/construction, with the new stadium to open in fall, 2026.

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

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17 Comments

  1. I’m interested in hearing the neighbors ideas about how Evanston might replace the estimated $5 million in tax revenue from this project should their opposition succeed.

    1. Typical NIMBYs.

      We should be overjoyed that Northwestern is investing in our community and that we may reap the financial rewards of their efforts.

    2. Guessing there’ll be ~200 homes impacted for the $.

      Seems like an easy trade for the greater good. Homeowners purchased those homes knowing they were in proximity & earshot of the stadium. Seems like a bunch of wealthy people put out that they might have to live with NU’s expansion. Looking forward to hearing about the catastrophe they’ll claim as a certainty if this project proceeds (yes, NU gets what it wants in Evanston).

      1. People bought homes near Ryan Field knowing the impact from football games. This is a bait and switch scheme.

  2. The same kind of neighborhood opposition developed many years ago, when there were proposals to allow professional football games at the stadium, and again when plans for lights were announced.

  3. no, no,absolutely not. This is Evanston, the beautiful college town on the lake. We do not need any concerts that will cause so many problems for our residents.

  4. If any of the folks quoted are over 96 years old and have lived in their homes for the entirety of their lives, then they have legitimate beef.

    Everyone else knew that a giant stadium was in their neighborhood when they moved in.

    Plus, the venue is smaller, meaning smaller maximum capacities and fewer fans for the bigger events. The residents don’t mention that because that’s something that will make game days and concert days quieter for local residents than a 47K seat stadium would produce.

    1. The noise from games is not challenging to live near to – in part because the games are during the day and it’s also not a constant noise. I moved to this neighborhood nearly 20 years ago and I love being close to the stadium – football days are busy, but that’s manageable and good for neighborhood businesses. Adding a dozen concerts at night would be far more disruptive and requires a change of use that, based on past NU comments would not be the direction of travel the school would take so the comments about NIMBYs and you knew it when you moved there are just not appropriate.

      And the claims by NU that these concerts are needed to make the new stadium viable just seem fanciful too. If the running costs of the new state of the art venue are higher than the current one then they need a better design. The truth surely seems more like NU trying to make more money off of their asset – something the school does not need to do.

  5. Northwestern didn’t listen to the neighborhood’s concerns and pushed forward with faux considerations for legitimate gripes. They are a greedy awful neighbors who care nothing for the community they occupy and are clearly a for profit institution masquerading as a non-profit.

    They’ve got this town on a string and will do what they please as they continue to take advantage of federal tax loopholes and feckless local officials.

    1. Greedy awful neigbors? Completely hyperbolic and unhelpful overreaction. Methinks Northwestern is Evanston’s greatest asset, and the school has done a lot of good for the city over the years. Evanston would be Skokie without Northwestern — nothing wrong with that, of course, but residents like yourself reap all the benefits of having a global institution at their footstep with all the trappings while complaining loudly and incessantly about the inevitabilities that come with having such an institution.

  6. The unattributed comment from the recent 7th ward meeting is mine (“I’m overjoyed. Love the additional functionality and uses envisioned. Can’t come soon enough.”). I grew up in the area and returned 17 years ago to raise my family in Evanston. Two years ago we made the conscious decision to move less than a block from the athletic campus. I appreciate all concerns expressed, but am confident we’ll not see the adverse impacts feared by some. Northwestern has been an attentive neighbor who’s willing to invest in solutions that mitigate negative impacts while inviting an ongoing, constructive dialogue. Finally, I love the “most livable city” idea and the new Ryan Field – with it’s beautiful design and multi-functional uses – will bring us much closer to this aspiration.

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