A rendering of the planned new Ryan Field.

Northwestern University is now saying that there would be no more than ten concerts at the new Ryan Field and at nearby Welsh-Ryan Arena combined, if the city approves construction of the new football stadium.

Previous reports had stated there could be “as many as 12,” “up to 12,” or “10 to 12” concerts at the proposed 35,000 seat facility.

However, Evanston Now was first to report last year that Northwestern also planned to hold some of those events at the much smaller Welsh-Ryan basketball arena, which can only hold about 8,000.

In a recent virtual 2nd Ward meeting, Dave Davis, NU’s Senior Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations said “we’re pursuing 10” total events.

Following that, in an email to Evanston Now, Davis confirmed that “the maximum number of concerts we’re requesting is 10 … and some of those concerts would take place at Welsh-Ryan Arena; however, the total actual number would still be capped at 10.”

It’s unclear what impact, if any, this reduction will have on the university’s efforts to get the stadium approved, nor on opposition — which is at least in part based on more crowds in the stadium neighborhood.

The board of directors of the Central Street Neighborhood Association recently came out in opposition to more outdoor concerts.

The group said it was not against a new football-only stadium with six or seven games a year.

However, the association added that “the commercialization for which zoning change is sought, more resembling the business of a for-profit entertainment conglomerate than higher educational purpose, wasn’t what any homebuyer or tenant bargained for ….”

A recent public opinion survey released by Northwestern showed majority support for the stadium rebuild, even among those living within a mile of the facility.

The survey concluded the majority of respondents, even stadium neighbors, were OK with having 12 concerts or fewer.

Evanston Now has a request in to NU to find out why the concert cap is now 10.

In the meantime, that lower number could end up having both positives and negatives for backers and opponents of the new football stadium.

On the one hand, fewer large outdoor concerts, as well as having some smaller events indoors, would likely mean somewhat less economic impact on the area, and fewer tax dollars for the city.

On the other hand, opponents painting a scenario of 35,000 concert-goers carousing through the streets 12 times a year might have to scale down their assessments as well.

Concerts at the much smaller indoor arena would presumably have less impact on the neighborhood.

Northwestern already hosts 38 home men’s and women’s basketball games at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

NU has not broken down how the music events might might split between the new stadium and the arena. The concert business is fluid, with certain acts more appropriate for certain venues.

One thing is certain, however. Northwestern argues that having concerts, whatever the number, along with the right to sell general admission alcohol at football games, are critical.

At a stadium presentation to business leaders in December, NU’s Davis said “if they [concerts and alcohol sales] don’t happen, this project doesn’t happen.”

If the project does happen, NU would play one more season at the present Ryan Field, with the new facility 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. The arguments against this proposal skew so far toward the absurd that It’s difficult to take them seriously. Love the new signs popping up here and there though “eNoUgh”. I’ve had enough too. Enough of a vocal minority assuming to speak for everyone in this City and constantly suppressing its potential.

    1. Haven’t seem one eNUough sign. Have seen Rebuild Ryan Field signs.
      Everyone can and should expressly express their view, in particular to their alderperson. If you support the stadium, don’t sit this one out. Contact your alderperson and show up for the votes.

  2. Across Evanston, we’ve had eNoUgh tax avoidance, plans for mega concerts and profiteering. We are opposed to a conglomerate that pays ZERO property taxes–with a 16 billion dollar endowment, charging ~$82,000 in yearly tuition–erecting a colosseum to profit off 35,000 attending mega concerts every summer weekend, nestled in a residential neighborhood. For context, the United Center hosts 21,000; Ravinia 14,000; Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 10,000. This is way beyond the remit of a non-profit school, especially when Northwestern pays ZERO in property taxes to the City. The only people to reap huge profits will be NU, Levy and its non-resident concert vendors, while the City and all its residents will be left with a bag of excessive burdens, extra costs and empty promises. eNoUgh.

  3. Given the amount of stadium parking lots, the indoor 8,000 person events should be almost a non -issue and I think they should be allowed to have those every weekend. In evaluating this proposal we should not co-mingle the total number of allowed events to include both indoor and outdoor so we are clear on what the stakes are, what the pros and cons are and what specifically we are squabbling about (need specific number of outdoor events proposed) . I am all for concerts and alcohol sales at NU events but I do have concerns about the allowed capacity numbers for evening outdoor events, particularly if this extends beyond what capacity is for NU parking lots. I propose limiting evening concert event capacity to the NU parking lot capacity, or possible also adding the capacity of city garages if NU were to provide free shuttles.

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