I support Northwestern University’s efforts to not only build their new state-of-the-art sports stadium but also to expand the uses allowed within the stadium beyond football games.

This project will serve the community in many different ways, providing new uses that local residents can enjoy but also creating a much needed draw for visitors into our community.

Those visitors are an essential component needed to support both City finances as well as small locally-owned businesses.

As those visitors patronize local businesses, this directly supports our employees, the majority of whom are also Evanston residents.

Please bear that in mind, it’s not just small business owners, it’s the thousands of employees we all collectively provide employment to.

Direct and immediate beneficiaries will be our local resident employees who will do better when our businesses do better.

As the current chairman of the North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau, this project provides a marketable destination to expand customer draw into our community.

And there is no better tax revenue stream than visitors coming into a community and spending money.

Tax revenue coming from those outside of our community should be the most prized revenue stream that a municipality can hope to enhance.

They are people who do not live here, do not require extensive City, educational or support services, yet provide direct tax revenue to the community at large.

The benefits of this project are far reaching, something most communities can only dream of achieving.

We all need to step up and embrace this project. Work with the University to mitigate any potential issues, but let’s make this happen, concerts and all.

Dan Kelch is an owner of the downtown Evanston restaurants The Blue Horse Tavern, Five & Dime, Lulus and Taco Diablo.

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  1. Well said! Liberal cities have the most restrictive zoning and building laws in the country- which is in direct conflict with our purported mission to help lower income people have jobs and housing. There’s a great article in this month’s Atlantic magazine about this very hypocritical thing!

    Thanks for reminding everyone that it’s not just business owners that benefit from economic development projects like the stadium- it’s all the employees and the whole ecosystem of evanston becomes a destination where people want to come and spend and enjoy themselves. Here’s to seeing our deserted streets fill up again!

  2. Exactly! City Council must take into account the needs of the business community. They do not need to stay in Evanston as ATM machines to be taxed and harassed! They can actually leave. As they have been doing!! The climate for businesses makes many just take Evanston off their consideration list. This project is much needed and should be embraced. Most neighbors near stadium want the new stadium but don’t want to be harassed by the few opposed.

  3. Highland Park residents manage to survive a few shows a week all season long at Ravinia. Bring on the stadium!

  4. Seems like the people opposed to this are a small group of wealthy homeowners who live near the stadium with their manicured lawns. If we are truly an inclusive city we need to think about the possibility’s for all residents. Great piece highlighting that aspect!!

  5. I’m all for it… it’s a **much** better gambit than continually trying to attract and expand “zero – value – added” social services agencies that further burden our city services and degrade our quality of life…

    Gregory Morrow – 4th Ward resident

  6. Gee, Daniel. We love those crispy chicken tacos, but ugh, you may have lost some loyal customers today. I get it…more profit. Cool. But there are larger issues at hand, including granting a blank check to a non-profit institution to become a for profit, mega concert promoter, all while avoiding property taxes, and flooding a residential neighborhood with 35,000 people every summer weekend. Plus have you talked to the businesses on Central street…they are worried the new stadium will draw people in but they will dine and drink at the stadium. We can indeed be TheMostLivableCity.org. But NU has jumped the shark with this plan.

    1. After a few years of community effort to support local restaurants, it’s a shame that a someone’s first response (suggested in an opening line) is to boycott restaurants in struggling downtown because the owner has a different opinion. Careful here, Casey, because some in the other 8 wards of Evanston may decide that we can give Central Street neighbors all the parking spaces and quiet they can handle by avoiding shopping or dining in the area. That would be foolish and harmful to Evanston, in my view, but I don’t boycott businesses because the owner has a legitimate difference of opinion.

    2. Is Ryan Field a dump that should be replaced? Yes.

      Does the city have leverage in PILOT sausage making because NU wants something big? Also yes.

      Do they have the bandwidth or unity to apply it? Unlikely.

  7. Mostly agree but Evanston seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to Northwestern. This is a major money maker for Northwestern despite their spin and let’s make sure that there are real benefits to Evanston taxpayers without punitive restrictions place on Northwestern.

  8. Northwestern’s own projection for direct plus indirect sales tax revenue for the City from the expanded use is a measly $3,576,363 per year (according to Tripp Umbach). By comparison, their head football coach made $5,372,318 in 2022.

    Allowing NU to convert its stadium and arena into for-profit venues for year-round, unlimited 10,000-person and 35,000-person events—without insisting they put that property on the tax roll or at least make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT)—is asking the community to subsidize NU, not the other way around.

    NU isn’t threatening to move Ryan Field to another town, or even that they won’t rebuild it. In contrast, Arlington Heights is considering a PILOT for the Bears to entice them to move there—that’s how generous an incentive it is.

    Why would anyone settle for such a rotten deal?

    1. A little different perspective. The sneer that the City will “only get a measly $3.5 million a year in additional taxes” for an investment of ZERO dollars is a bit arrogant. When I ran a business, if someone told me that they’d build my facility for free and pay me $3.5 million a year in fees, I’ d say yes before they came to their senses. Sure, ETown should get a better deal from NU if we can, but $3.5 million dollars off of an investment of ZERO is a pretty good return.
      Also, the PILOT for the Bears and Payment in Lieu Of that you request from NU are polar opposites. The Chicago Bears, as are other NFL franchises, are not tax exempt. The PILOT for the Arlington Heights stadium is a proposal FROM THE BEARS that the Bears get a tax kickback, aka TIF district, where the Bears get their tax bill frozen and the taxes they do pay kicked back to them. This scheme helps the Bears avoid taxes, not pay them. It’s what the Bears want from Arlington Heights, not what AH wants to give them. Not the same situation here at all.

      1. I said Arlington Heights is considering the PILOT—not that it was Arlington Heights’s idea. Reading comprehension matters, too. The point is that not paying property taxes—or paying less than what those taxes would be—is a form of subsidization. Just because Evanston isn’t literally writing a check to NU to build the new stadium doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a sweetheart deal to NU to allow them to commercialize it while remaining tax-exempt.

        The rezoning would also come with costs to Evanston—costs that NU’s consultant, Tripp Umbach, did not attempt to quantify. But in a meeting with Seventh Ward residents, Paul Umbach admitted that his model assumes that the City will pay for extra costs (infrastructure repair and the like) from that $3.5 million.

  9. If you want downtown Evanston to thrive, as do we all, then ask Pat and Shirley Ryan to build you a funhouse there. It has a better infrastructure to support it. The article also points out an ironic situation: how many employees of city businesses like bars and restaurants can afford to live in Evanston? They can’t. Why? Because NU refuses to make a consistent, meaningful payment in lieu of taxes, which shoves the burden onto everyone else. If you use your head, you’ll discover that NU actually is the problem, not the solution. The purpose of all this stadium nonsense is to spare NU from having to support its scheme once the Ryan’s are done building it.

  10. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Expanded use of the U2 district can benefit the local businesses but parking must be managed so locals can reach the Central St. businesses still that aren’t a part of the events and neighbors should be able to access their properties. Why isn’t NU offering to profit share with Evanston when they are supposed to be a not for profit? Why aren’t they making payments to schools and to housing affordability? Why aren’t they suggesting parking shuttles to downtown parking garages to encourage downtown patronage before/after events and eliminate parking concerns by the stadium? They can and should be doing so much more when they demand so much from the city and residents.

  11. NU chose to build its stadium in the middle of a residential neighborhood, unlike most other universities. People moved there with the understanding that there is a college football stadium hosting about 7 games a year. It is not right to judge the neighbors by the types of houses they have and decide that their voices should not count. The neighborhood has many modest sized homes with small yards, as well as multi-family houses. People moved there because it is a quiet neighborhood close to small family-owned shops. To change that by building something akin to an outdoor United Center is wrong.

  12. I continue to be concerned about NU’s plan, especially given that the Central Street businesses as a whole are opposed to it. The parking situation is extremely concerning–the lots at Ryan Field hold only a small percentage of the stadium capacity. This means that tens of thousands of event-goers will be parking in the neighborhood around the Central Street business district. Sure, some of those concert-goers may patronize those local businesses, but many more will simply take up parking spaces and choose to dine in the event venue–leaving little to no parking for those of us who do wish to patronize the local businesses.

    At the very least, we need more information from an objective third-party source about the actual physical and economic impacts of this stadium on Evanston–both as a whole and the Central Street corridor. I’m not yet convinced that Evanston residents will actually see employment in this venture, and I am not convinced that the harm to neighboring residences and businesses is worth the financial crumbs NU is offering the city. We need to apply the brakes and take a better look at all sides before moving forward.

  13. I oppose the city granting several zoning variances to the University to enable them to increase the usage of the stadium to include night concerts and other un-named, unquantified events. Northwestern’s tax-free venue should not be granted a zoning variance to allow it to be used to hold for-profit events that are not associated with educating their students. The City of Evanston’s residents should not be asked to subsidize tax-free, for-profit concerts by paying for the city street parking which Northwestern refuses to provide.

  14. Mr. Kelch, before making blanket statements about all the great benefits to small business owners you might want to talk to the businesses on Central street who loose money on football days due to traffic. NU envisions multiple restaurants and libation stations all run by Levy (currently facing labor violation at United Center) at Ryan field. Downtown is 2 miles away. What study breaks down the cost and benefit to downtown? With glossy uninformative brochures, misinformation spread by a multitude of Northwestern-paid canvassers, and a smoke and mirrors economic impact we would do far better to demand our fair-share then put trust in a corporate non-profit who only cares about their own bottom line.

    1. Cat Ryan, you do in fact realize that Northwestern is not gong away, right? That a new stadium would replace an old, out of date one….so what’s your point? Concerts would be attended by metro Chicago residents who actually would shop and dine on Central Street and come back to shop and dine. Concerts are 2 hours not all day events…. most business districts would welcome such a great draw to their street.

  15. Last week, I had a glass of wine at an Northwestern basketball game. Football games already feature food trucks. Why would Evanston restaurant owners assume that a state-of-the-art stadium won’t also offer high-end dining experiences? Will concertgoers want to park in downtown Evanston, eat, get themselves to a stadium a mile away, and then figure out how to get back to their cars four hours later in the dark? Or will they spend the entire evening at the stadium, leaving Evanston businesses no better off than they are today? Sure, the city of Evanston will get a very small percentage of what’s spent in sales tax revenue but Northwestern is the business that will profit the most – and pay zero tax on it.

    1. Perhaps as a downtown restaurant owner, Dan Kelch remembers the numerous out of town fans staying downtown in the Hilton and Orrington, eating at The Farmhouse and dear departed Smiley Brothers before and after the game. Somehow, they “figured out” how to get back downtown, probably by using the shuttle provided or following the crowds of people to the CTA. People are smarter than you give them credit for.
      Every football game I’ve ever attended has featured local restaurants at the tailgates. Hecky’s has been there for years. They rotate local providers inside the stadium. Featuring local restaurants isn’t just a promise. NU has been doing it for years. Can’t wait to order some of Dan’s Crispy Tacos at a game.

      1. No one is asking Northwestern to stop having football games or any of the athletic events NU alumni and Evanstonians have been enjoying for 100 years. I look forward to attending many more of them, and hope attendees continue to dine at our restaurants and stay at our hotels. But Big 10 sporting events attract out-of-town visitors because they involve teams and fans from…out-of-town. In any case, has Northwestern made any firm commitments to offer Evanston restaurants rights to provide food or drink at the new stadium? The company who was just given exclusive rights to sell beer and wine at Welsh-Ryan is Levy which operates in 200 sports venues and has $1.5B in revenue. Considering the smaller size of that venue, it would’ve been a good opportunity for an Evanston company.

    2. Hey Sydney, thanks for telling a lifelong restauranteur what’s good for the business he runs and knows.

  16. Look at he changes in neighborhood around sports stadiums. Example Wrigley field. It is not new a new build, but it changed from a sleepy venue for locals to a monster draw. Once it was a fascinating neighborhood once with shops, small entertainment venues and small restaurants. success drove out original businesses and replaced with franchises and mega ventures. The business area was malled. While before, the fans were often bad guests, public urination, locals verbally abused (see old Royko coulmns). but it was occasional.
    The new stadium will degrade the quality of life for the neighborhood. The traffic and parking issues already seen from current games will be much more frequent. Central street will most likely also be malled as more tee shirt shops, large bars, and fast food chains will loom — not to serve the community so much as the newcomers. It is unlikely that the bookstore and other delightful shops will benefit from the rush of concert goers any more that they have from the current football fans.

  17. “Cubism is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view.” ~ Jacques Lipchitz, cubist sculptor
    A wide spectrum of interesting and worthwhile comments posted in response to this article. I particularly appreciate the ones that respectfully acknowledge differing perspectives and seek to learn from them, while they seek to persuade.

  18. Love the comparisons between Wrigley Field, which hosts about 80 games per year and ~10 concerts plus additional events, and the proposal at hand which is 6-7 football games and now no more than 10 events total of which several are planned to be held indoors at Welsh Ryan. Nice try though.

  19. Would Evanston be receiving a tax for event tickets and for food and beverage that is competitive with what is received elsewhere nationwide for similar stadium concert events? i think that should be the primary financial litmus test for this proposal and the question of whether NU is making a fair contribution that makes this proposal worthwhile for Evanston. This is assuming NU is also providing support such as neighborhood cleanup patrols after concerts, additional port-o-pots placed outside the stadium (to avoid people not respecting the neighborhood lawns) and security and traffic management in the neighborhood around the stadium. Regarding quality of life impact, in light of the stadium being in a residential neighborhood, I do feel that concerts should have to end no later than 10:30 pm (or maybe 10:00 pm?) on a weekend or 9:00 pm on a week night (similar to Ravinia). With that said, Go Cats!

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