Northwestern University is seeking city approval to hold additional events at its athletic complex on Central Street in Evanston.

At a 7th Ward meeting Thursday evening, Dave Davis, the school’s executive director of neighborhood and community relations, said the city’s zoning code currently limits events at the sports complex to university, elementary and high school athletic events and convocations plus up to seven temporary events that must be of a not-for-profit nature and limited to no more than 10,000 attendees.

Davis said the school would like to raise the event limit to 15 and allow for-profit events to be included.

He said the request was prompted by an inquiry from an organization that wants to host a professional tennis event that would likely draw a couple thousand people.

In response to a question, Davis noted that the school pays an 11 percent tax to the city on all ticket revenue from sporting events, which he said is the highest municipal athletic tax in the nation.

He also said that additional events would attract more people to the city who would shop along Central Street and spend nights at local hotels.

“The more people we can attract, I think that’s a benefit to the city,” Davis said.

Several residents objected to the plan, mainly from concerns about parking and traffic issues.

“Traffic in town is exploding, it’s become very inconvenient already,” said one woman.

Another claimed that “people who watch tennis are not going to shop on Central Street.”

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said the proposed zoning change would need to be reviewed by the Plan Commission before being decided by the City Council.

She said that she had concerns about the proposal and suggested there were “two numbers to think about” — the size of the increase in the number of events and the capacity of the venues that would be included in the change.

Davis said the plan would be to require that each of the added events be reviewed by the city’s special event committee and would require approval by the City Council.

In an interview this morning, Davis said he was sympathetic to the concerns residents raised at the meeting and “wants to make sure that whatever we do doesn’t cause adverse effects and instead strengthens the community.”

He said that the school could provide on-site parking for any event held in the Welch-Ryan arena, which has a capacity of slightly over 8,000 spectators.

Events that came anywhere close to filling the 47,000 seat Ryan Field would require off-site parking solutions. He said the school has no plans for new events of that size at this point.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Great idea NU

    Hosting more events at NU’s athletic complex would be a significant benefit to the Evanston Community. Bringing more people to Evanston enhances our communities reputation, provides more tax revenues (directly from 11% ticket tax and indirectly from hotels, restaurants and other retail sales)

    Yes, it should be managed well – and from my experiences over the last 30 years, most NU events are well done. And yes there would be some additional traffic, but the benefits from this opportunity far outweigh the costs.

    Thank you NU !

  2. NU Events

    As an immediate neighbor for 40 years of the athletic complex and with a huge family tie to NU, we all experience the excitement and incovenience of NU athletics……traffic, loss of residential parking, noise, litter, fans wandering through yards, and even some vandalism. We endure it because of the joy and excitement of college athletics, the current limits on these activities, and our loyalties to the school. This new proposal for professional/for profit events, by NU’s admission, is simply a “revenue play” and will not bring additional value to the immediate neighborhood…..just more inconvenience. If this new revenue is that important, let NU pursue use of the various existing athletic facilities on the lakefront(indoor football facility, SPAC, and numerous excellant playing fields) where residential impact would be minimal. NU does manage the execution of athletic events very well…..they just don’t manage,or are very empathetic to, the impact on the immediate resdential neighborhood. We simply do not need more events.

    1. bring it to town

      This “revenue play” would be a great positive for Evanston, beyond just generating the additional entertainment taxes and the extra sales & liquor tax revenues, all of which absolutely & directly benefits the entire community. 

      Also ask any local restaurant employee what the direct impact would be on their livelihood.  Then ask that small business owner how a day of increased sales will help them pay their r.e. taxes. 

      People who freely chose to live next to a Big 10 University sports stadium shouldn’t be trying to deny something that would benefit the whole community because they don’t like the activity generated by a Big 10 sports facility.  As you say, Northwestern events are well run, no reason to believe these events won’t also be well run.  Council needs to bring this event to town. 

    2. NIMBY

      Tom – when you purchased your house, was there a football stadium on Central Street? Yes, it may be an inconvenience for you and some other neighbors, but what about the benefits for the greater Evanston community? Your concerns should be addressed and dealt with appropriately. NU should be willing to hire additional security and pay to have trash picked up.

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