Northwestern University officials announced plans today to construct a new state-of-the-art visitors center for prospective students and their families on its Evanston campus.

An architect’s rendering of the new visitors center.

Northwestern University officials announced plans today to construct a new state-of-the-art visitors center for prospective students and their families on its Evanston campus.

The 170,000-gross-square-foot facility, designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Perkins+Will, will include an auditorium with approximately 160 seats, meeting rooms, offices for admissions visitors staff and waiting areas for visitors.

Northwestern also plans to demolish the existing boathouse used by the University’s sailing club and replace it with a larger facility near the new visitors center.

Along with the recently announced $117 million new building for the Bienen School of Music and School of Communication, the new visitors center and boathouse are part of the University’s southeast campus development plan.

Originally unveiled in 2008 as part of Northwestern’s Evanston Campus Framework Plan, which was adopted in early 2009, the new construction will transform and enhance the southeast area of Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

The eastern third of an existing two-story parking garage located at the south end of campus will be demolished and replaced with a 120-foot-wide pedestrian-friendly green space that will slope down to Lake Michigan from the new music/communication building and other arts buildings in that area.

The total cost of the southeast campus development projects will be approximately $151 million. The work will generate approximately $2 million in building permit fees for the City of Evanston and is expected to create more than 170 construction and related jobs.

To provide adequate parking for admissions visitors and comply with Evanston zoning requirements, the new visitors center will include a parking garage for about 435 cars. The south and west facades of the garage will be enclosed in glass and stone to help obscure the visibility of the cars in the garage and to continue the facade of the visitors center portion of the structure.

By combining the visitors center and parking garage on the main part of its campus, Northwestern will enable admissions visitors to park in the same building where admissions information sessions are held and campus tours begin.

The information sessions and tours are now held in a building located at 1801 Hinman Ave., at the south edge of Northwestern’s campus. Originally built as an office for a professional association, that building has no parking for visitors and inadequate facilities for information sessions. More than 47,000 people – prospective students and their families – visit Northwestern’s admissions office every year.

“The new visitors center will provide a beautiful new front door for Northwestern and enable us to start campus tours on the main part of campus, rather than having to cross Sheridan Road with large groups of visitors,” said Michael Mills, associate provost for enrollment management. “With a new center located directly on the lakefront, we’ll give visitors a wonderful first impression of Northwestern.”

The parking garage in the visitors center is expected to reduce parking on residential streets in Evanston near campus by admissions visitors, which now occurs.

In addition, because Northwestern’s parking lots and garages do not require a University permit on evenings and weekends, the new garage will be available for use by people going to the adjacent Evanston beach and park during those times. The park is the site of concerts, arts festivals and other activities throughout the summer months, and the beach is one of Evanston’s most popular.

“We’re very pleased to be able to create an attractive new gateway to campus while at the same time reducing parking on city streets and providing additional parking during the evening and weekends,” said Eugene S. Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance.

The interior buildout of the visitors center will be designed with a minimum goal of LEED CI Silver certification. Additional sustainable features will include a geothermal heat exchange system to heat and cool the garage area and reserved spaces for charging electric cars.

Estimated cost of the new visitors center is $32 million. Construction is expected to begin later this summer and take 18 months with completion slated for early 2014.

A gallery of photos of the planned visitor center is available online.

An architect’s rendering of the new boathouse.

Northwestern also will construct a new boathouse in the area just east of the new visitors center and south of the existing parking garage.

The 5,000-square-foot structure, designed by David Woodhouse Architects, will be open from March to late October and serve Northwestern’s sailing community with its fleet of sailboats and windsurfing gear. In addition, the Sailing Center will be home to Northwestern University’s sailing team.

Estimated cost of the new boathouse is $2.5 million. Construction is expected to begin this summer and take a year with completion slated for fall 2013.

A gallery of photos of the planned boathouse is available online.

Join the Conversation


  1. Street stress

    Have the powers that be in Evanston government and NU considered the severe beating our streets will suffer from all the construction trucks and materials being hauled in for this massive project?

  2. Stop Light

    I hope that the University and the City will consider adding a Stop Light on Sheridan at Campus Drive. This is to insure pedestrian safety while crossing and to allow vehicles the opportunity to safely make a left on that curve in Sheridan. Currently, cars speed in and out of that drive and put pedestrians and other motorists in danger.

    They have agreed to add a light further north on Sheridan, where the University is adding a parking structure. Since they are going to increase the amount of traffic here, with both this development and the arts department building, it seems like the safe and prudent idea to add a light to help everyone. 

    1. I would hope they add more

      I would hope they add more traffic lights and that Evanston re-design Sheridan in front of NU to be 3 car lanes only, flanked by bike lanes (as Sheridan is arranged throughout Wilmette). It would prevent speeding and be more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, not to mention to those who live in the area.

  3. Wonderful

    WOW!  Outstanding!  A beautiful looking building, lots of new parking, what an absolute positive for the whole community.  2 million+ in permit fees, millions of dollars in payroll for jobs, now and continuing into the future.  Not to mention those 47,000+ visitors every year, staying in our hotels, eating in our restaurants, paying our local sales taxes and supporting all those local business and jobs.  Just Wonderful.


    1. Path cut off?

      Slide three makes it look like the path along the east side—from north of the old boat dock—ends at the Visitor Center.  Currently you follow the path along the lake to the Lagoon. From the drawing it looks like you would have to cut west of the Vistor Center but even that is not clear how from the drawing.

  4. A new visitors center will be

    A new visitors center will be nice but what is really lacking is a meaninfgul streetscape along Sheridan. Yes, the road is scheduled to be repaved, but what about decorative lighting, street furniture, and attractive landscaping?  Sheridan is the gateway to the University and until this thoroughfare is improved the strudent, visitor, and community experience will not be fully realized. 

    1. Don’t forget the Sheridan

      Don't forget the Sheridan sidewalk, which really needs an increase in capacity.

  5. NU has money to burn

    Hate to admit it, but Im quite jealous of the building and development boom at NU. Would that the City of Evanston could build a new Robert Crown Center, rehab the moribund Evanston Plaza at Dempster-Dodge, pursue urban renewal along Howard Street or fund some of the wonderful ideas put forth by the Evanston 150 group…sigh.

    NU is just swimming in cash while Evanston is drowning.  Payments in Lieu of Taxes, anyone????

    1. Money to burn

      NU is congratulating itself on the new visitor's center, boat house and opening doors to Deering Library.

      I assume donors are paying the initial funding costs, but what about the future—staffing, maintenance, etc.  It will probably become part of the general university budget and be paid for by higher tuition, fees, etc. paid by students [and parents] — who will complain about the high costs.

      Big donors wanted the Deering doors open—so of course they have their way and students [parents] pay. The same can be said for a number of other changes in the library and other construction at the university.

      Both the university and donors should be aware of the costs and not think of getting their name on a building or project and concentrate on whether their gifts/expenditures are really important to the education [I guess that is still the stated purpose of the university] and spend money where needed instead of something 'showy.'

      I assume the Visitor's Center, Boathouse and Deering Door will all have a donor's name attached.  Donors will then write it off as 'charity' on tax-returns—is that really what 'charity' is, or is it [and tax deductions] really suppose to be for helping the needy and education/medical research without donor names atttached ?

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