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.