To apply a basketball term to a football stadium, Northwestern University is putting on a full-court press to gain public support for rebuilding Ryan Field.

University president Michael Schill, Athletics Director Derrick Gragg, and other NU officials made their case Monday night at a meeting sponsored by the Evanston/North Shore chapter of the NAACP.

Schill said Northwestern is committed to having 35% of construction contracts for the new stadium go to minority and women-owned businesses.

With more than 2,000 construction jobs expected for the project, Schill said NU “will create an available pipeline to go from a job to a career” for some of those helping to build the facility.

Many of the half-dozen or so questions dealt with minority hiring and job training for the $800 million, privately financed stadium, which requires City Council approval before it can move forward.

A rendering of the planned new Ryan Field.

One attendee said while he “appreciates the university’s ambition,” he was afraid that the general contractor might be able to pay a penalty fee instead of meeting the 35% minority/female subcontractor goal.

“How,” the questioner asked, “will we hold the contractor’s feet to the fire?”

NU Director of Athletics Derric Gragg.

Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg said NU is “committed” to the 35% number.

Former Ald. Peter Braithwaite, who is the university’s director of diversity, added that “the fact that we’re here a year and a half early,” talking, before construction would even start,” shows NU is committed to minority and female-owned businesses.

Most of those in the 75-person audience who asked questions, as well as those online in a chat, were supportive, or simply seeking information.

However, one in the crowd said Northwestern needs to do more for the local public schools, nonprofit agencies and the 5th Ward.

“Sometimes we’re on two different planets,” he said about the university and the community.

“I hear you,” said Schill. “This is important to us too.”

One step Northwestern is taking, according to Dave Davis, executive director of neighborhood and community relations, is to create a community fund for the 7th Ward, where Ryan Field is located. The fund, he said, was recommended by a neighbor.

Northwestern is also collecting signatures in support of the new stadium.

In the meantime, a group stadium neighbors calling themselves the Most Livable City Association, said they have collected approximately 500 signatures in an online petition against the stadium plan.

The group, which opposes concerts planned for the new Ryan Field, says Northwestern’s intent to host up to a dozen such events a year would turn the stadium “into a huge profit center with a smattering of football games.”

Northwestern has said the concerts (some of which would be held indoors at Welsh-Ryan arena, and not outdoors at the new football field) are needed for the financial viability of the stadium.

The neighbors group says Northwestern should pay property taxes if it wants to run for-profit concerts, and also wants an independent financial analysis of the university’s economic impact claims.

There were no similar questions or demands from anyone in the NAACP meeting.

Ending now with a track-and-field reference, if all the hurdles can be cleared by NU, the current Ryan Field will be torn down after the end of the next football season, with the new stadium opening in 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.

Join the Conversation


  1. With a 16 billion dollar endowment and the stadium being funded through donations, I don’t understand how they need to have concerts to make this project financially feasible. Can someone please explain?

    1. Often, university endowments are not piggy banks to be dipped into at will. Donors earmark contributions for specific purposes. So, unless a NU donor has endowed stadium maintenance, the size of the overall fund may be irrelevant.

      Someone from NU can answer your question. My reasonable assumption is funds for stadium maintenance. Spaces need to be heated, cooled and cleaned even when not in use.

      What I’d like someone to explain is why my fellow citizens want to stick it to Northwestern but instead hit other Evanston residents? Why we can’t find a way to host 12 events a year in return for the largest private capital investment ever in Evanston- at no taxpayer expense- that will employ hundreds of Evanston residents and produce a multi year income stream for the city is baffling. Twelve additional events a year in return for millions? And local entertainment as a bonus? Let’s do it!

    2. Simple. They want to make money. That seems to be a crime in the People’s Republic of Evanston. Are they a non-profit? Yes. Do they make a lot of money? Yes. Get over it. 500 signatures is a tiny fraction of the population. No one feels sorry for the landowners who purchased their houses in the shadows of the stadium. You’ve benefitted from it so please stop crying about how this will impair your lives. Evanston as a whole needs the money, even if the landowners near the stadium do not.

      1. While increased sales tax revenues are good for Evanston, the reality is that NU returns table scraps to Evanston relative to its capacity and what its peer, wealthy universities provide to their hometowns. Take for example, Yale’s recently announced plan to pay $135 million over six years to New Haven. “Making money” is NOT why NU is exempted as a not-for-profit institution from property taxes. Every Evanston business and homeowner would love not to have to pay taxes. But recognition of the common good and willingness to pay a fair share are the hallmarks of a cohesive society. The 7th Ward has specific concerns, but the overarching concern is equity for all of Evanston.

      2. Mr. Johnson – Your divisive comment (“No one feels sorry for the landowners who purchased their houses in the shadows of the stadium.”) misses the point. The neighbors knew they were buying next to a college football stadium — not next door to a stadium rock venue. Happy holidays.

  2. Northwestern University will make plenty of money to maintain the stadium through TV viewing rights of the games. Major event owners make the money on entertainment venues and Northwestern has been opaque about their expected profits. Without an independent assessment, its all smoke and mirrors. We need to understand the ramifications of a major entertainment venue to our community. Without this, the City of Evanston will bear the costs, not NU.

  3. Will Northwestern be using union labor on the new stadium? Have they committed to what percentage of business owners and workers will live with in Evanston the way the late great Mayor Washington of Chicago made sure that 50% of union workers that worked on projects for the city lived in the city.

    Does the 35% only apply to the owners or will it apply to the workers on the job site? Would be great to see real specifics of how they will implement these numbers because minorities and women are underrepresented in the trade unions by an appalling amount or are they planning on using non union shops?

    Would love to hear an answer from Dave Davis, Derrick Gragg, or former Ald. Peter Braithwaite if any representatives from NU want to chime in to explain NU’s process and policy in this regard.


    1. Good luck finding enough union workers that live in city limits. That was the problem with the RC buildout.

  4. I attended the NAACP meeting last night. The diverse crowd and their questions were respectful and solution focused regarding jobs, community enhancement and livability; so different from the issues some of my entitled 7th Ward neighbors are worried about. As someone said privately last night: maybe The Most Livable City Association should try to understand how this rebuild will help others to have a more livable experience in our city !

    1. With respect Kelly, the questions posed at the meeting last night not only were right on target but also represented many of the concerns of your “entitled” neighbors (let’s try not to label people). My concern was the lack of substance in the answers provided by NU officials. The issues all of us are facing here are nuanced and complex, for NU as well as for every Evanstonian. As a business investor who hopes to profit from the new venue (there’s nothing wrong with that), I imagine you also would support an independent study of the economic impact of the new stadium scheme. As it stands, the community shouldn’t rely simply on NU’s promises. If NU was transparent and revealed its underlying financial calculations–which it has not agreed to do–then it might engender greater trust and enthusiasm than it’s PR song and dance so far has done.

  5. Aaron, please acquaint yourself with the Field of Schemes campaign literature. Some of the concerns listed included nuisance behavior, child endangerment, traffic/ pedestrian violations and trash. These concerns vs last night’s questions about job development, training and overall community enhancement did present a stark difference depending on where you reside. Maybe a better word would be privilege, as in “ where will my guests park when I have dinner parties on concert nights” ? And fyi, I do support an independent study !

    1. Neighbors in the immediate vicinity can support the stadium build which will result in the job development, training, and community enhancement you mention, support the non-profit and <10,000 people community events that are currently allowed under the U2 zoning, and still have concerns about nusiance behavior, drunk driving, child endangerment, and parking. They are not mutally exclusive.

    2. Kelly, we are not at all concerned about dinner parties and where to park. Please look at the bigger issues and push for the independent economic impact.

  6. When I bought my home near the stadium I knew there would be 7 games a year and that the stadium was zoned for collegiate football. I did not know NU would work to change the stadium into a venue to host concerts and serve alcohol. Choosing to live near a football stadium with a limited number of games is very different from choosing to live near a concert venue.

    The complaints of bad behavior currently experienced on game days are valid points. I have personally observed this while trying to walk my dog on these days. I have seen drunken behavior on the street, public urination, broken beer bottles on the sidewalk, and beer cans in the yards. We currently experience this 7 days a year. Expanding this to include 12 concerts, which will most likely end up being an event every weekend all summer, is a lot to ask the neighborhood surrounding the stadium to bear.

  7. I will end my time on this thread by sharing one last thing. When I saw the concerns listed in the Field of Schemes announcement, much of it didn’t ring true to me as someone who’s lived 2 blocks south of the stadium for 22 years. My family and the surrounding neighbors have lived in a non eventful coexistence with NU for that long; many of my Lincoln Street neighbors even longer. Based on my lived experience I decided to use FOIA for the categories listed in previous comments. My sample included all home football games from the 2021 & 2022 seasons, 9am-10pm, at all major Lincoln intersections. The report came back with 9 EPD calls. Three were at the Water Station and were in house calls to the office there ( no nuisance behavior), 1 towing, and 2 parking tickets west of Ridge. East of Ridge, there was a domestic dispute and two loud parties. I don’t doubt that people have experienced things that went unreported to the police; I’ve picked up some litter and a stray beer bottle or two myself in 22 years. With certainty I can say that numerous children on my block and the surrounding area have been raised to be successful, functioning adults despite heavy but controlled traffic and NU events .

    1. Thanks for sharing, but either your FOIA request or the City’s response was incomplete; I personally reported public urination on Hole 14 during the OSU game this year to both the EPD and Councilmember Revelle. I’m glad for you about your positive experiences over the years, but ask that you please consider allowing your neighbors with different experiences and concerns to share them without further derision.

    2. Kelly, and others that support this project as currently “offered,” why can’t or won’t Northwestern make a similar financial commitment to Evanston as that being done by Yale with New Haven? (as another post referenced)

  8. Shame on Northwestern for once again trying to make money off the backs of Evanston homeowners. There is no discussion of the decreased property revenues due to a decrease in property values around a new commercial venture. Nor do they address the negative impact on local businesses. And they certainly don’t seem to care that they will negatively and significantly impact the quality of life in our beautiful residential community. If they want to get into the commercial concert business, go someplace else. Make a deal with Chicago to revamp Soldier Field or work out space with the Bears in Arlington Heights. But leave our neighborhood alone!

  9. NU is out in the community spreading $$$ around and talking about temporary construction jobs all the while stating that paying their fair share of taxes is a non-starter. Once NU gets city approval for their new tax free cash cow, I expect that the funding will magically disappear.
    NU should pay their fair share to the city if they want to special treatment.

  10. Not entirely related, but doesn’t the thought of even building a new stadium seem illogical?
    I appreciate that Pat Ryan wants to donate $480 million to Northwestern for a stadium. If Mr. Ryan and NU administration believed in NU’s mission statement (“Northwestern is committed to excellent teaching, innovative research and the personal and intellectual growth of its students in a diverse academic community”), wouldn’t it be better to donate $480 million into NU’s scholarship fund or, lower tuition for all students?
    NU is stating the new stadium will be environmentally friendly. Has anyone considered the carbon footprint of tearing down the stadium recycling the steel, crushing concrete, etc. and then the carbon footprint needed to rebuild the stadium? Wind and solar won’t get this job done.
    Finally, if the stadium is built, it will be sold out the first year. If the team plays like it did this year, it will be half full thereafter. This is a weird vanity project for Pat Ryan that shouldn’t be build.
    For those mildly supportive of this project, please see through the pandering of NU.
    I’ll offer a compromise…3 concerts a summer, $10 event ticket tax to Evanston, no new stadium and Pat Ryan can donate $240 million to the NU scholarship fund to show he really believes in NU’s mission statement.
    This project shouldn’t happen. If it does, the blatant hypocrisy of NU is right there front and center for all to see.

    1. No one has to donate anything it should be paid by local tax payers and your carbon footprint would be you can’t or be around an old stadium that is worn down.
      Being completely ignorant of what and how a FREE 800 million stadium but let’s complain about it 10 -12 Yearly tax generated income to a city that needs it.

      NU ails Ryan field to the degree of a failure because of the community that it can’t and won’t fill up in this OLD RELIC of a stadium. Life is a carbon footprint kid.

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