A rendering of the planned new Ryan Field.

Northwestern University officials say some of the 12 concerts proposed as part of the new Ryan Field football stadium project could end up happening at the much smaller Welsh-Ryan basketball arena next door.

Dave Davis, NU’s executive director of neighborhood and community relations, told a Chamber of Commerce gathering Thursday afternoon that the “text amendment” needed from the City of Evanston for the new field allows 10-12 concerts, some of which could be held in the basketball arena indoors instead of the football stadium outside.

Northwestern plans to tear down the current Ryan Field after next football season, and replace it with a new, state-of-the-art, privately-financed $800 million dollar stadium.

Some neighbors oppose concerts at the new facility due to the potential increase for crowds, noise, and traffic.

Having some of those concerts in Welsh-Ryan Arena instead of the football field would mean much smaller crowds (under 8,000 capacity vs 35,000), less traffic, no concert noise, and no outdoor stadium lights.

Interior of Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Davis told Evanston Now that there is no breakdown on how many concerts could happen in each location, but “we do intend to do outdoor” events.

The decision may depend on the artist for a particular show, as some acts prefer a smaller venue, or perhaps could not fill a football stadium.

Larger, outdoor events, of course, bring in more money.

Davis said getting city permission for the up to 12 events, as well as the OK to sell alcohol to general admission fans at the football field are needed to make the stadium financially viable.

“If they [concerts and alcohol sales] don’t happen,” Davis told the business people at the meeting, “this project doesn’t happen.”

NU officials discuss proposed new Ryan Field with Chamber of Commerce members Thursday in Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Davis and several other Northwestern athletics and development officials urged the business representatives to speak out publicly in favor of the new stadium and to lobby City Council, which has final say on the project.

One of those business representatives, Gina Speckman, executive director of Chicago’s North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the voices of merchants, restaurant owners and employees, and hotel operators who benefit from the stadium must not be drowned out.

“The few neighbors who are against it are very loud,” Speckman said.

“We cannot be silent and let four neighbors dominate the conversation,” she added.

Besides millions of dollars in economic impact from the construction project itself, the new Ryan Field is also supposed to provide a big economic bump for Evanston long-term.

Part of that bump is from the concerts.

The City had previously allowed a two-year pilot project for concerts at Welsh-Ryan Arena (before the new football field was every proposed), but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pilot period expired at the end of 2021 without any concerts being held.

Far beyond concerts, however, NU is presenting the new football field as an asset for the entire community.

“The impact of this project extends all the way to Howard Street,” Davis said.

A lot of potential activities in and around the new stadium were presented, including a fall festival on stadium grounds, an ice skating rink outside the facility, pop-up opportunities for local businesses, a movie night on the football field and even a neighborhood sleep-over.

“We want more people here,” Davis said.

The new stadium could also become a venue for events now are held outside Evanston.

Pat Hughes, of Byline Bank, said the Evanston Township High School Foundation is going to Skokie for a meeting, something which might fit will, he indicated, into a room in the new stadium.

Assuming City Council says yes to all of Northwestern’s requests, Northwestern will have to play football in 2024 and 2025 somewhere else, with the new Ryan Field opening in 2026.

Where that somewhere else will be is, like a hanging 4th-down punt, still up in the air.

Tyler Jones, senior associate director of athletics, said “whatever facility can hold a football contest, we’re going to explore.”

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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  1. Northwestern’s assertion that it needs to become a major, for-profit entertainment provider in order for the stadium to be “viable” strains credulity. What about its $15 billion endowment, $84 million budget surplus, and giving only chump change to Evanston in lieu of taxes? It seems that NU wishes to impose its scheme to make money, by selling dubious economic benefits. Evanston don’t be blindsided. Do INDEPENDENT economic and environmental studies BEFORE allowing major zoning changes. And Evanston businesses, don’t be lured by NU’s math. The new stadium will be a not-for-profit competitor selling alcohol, food, and bling to concertgoers. True, the impact will go all the way to Howard Street, and it might not be the glittering gift some might imagine!

  2. “The few neighbors who are against it are very loud.” What a dismissive, contemptuous comment by Gina Speckman. The promoters of this boondoggle pay lip service to seeking community input. But when it’s offered, they minimize it as just “a few neighbors.” In truth, they want to hear from the neighbors who support the project but not from those who don’t.

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