Neighbors complain about NU arena events plan

Over one hundred residents who live near Northwestern University's Welsh Ryan Arena turned out Tuesday evening to object to the school's request to hold pro sports and entertainment events at the venue.

The complaints at the meeting, hosted by the school in the Wilson Club inside the arena, focused on noise, parking and traffic congestion.


Mike Polisky and Dave Davis.

NU officials at the meeting -- Mike Polisky, deputy director of athletics for external affairs, and Dave Davis, executive director for neighborhood and community relations -- said the school has dropped the idea of hosting such events at the 47,000 seat Ryan Field.

It's now only requesting authorization from the City of Evanston for a two-year pilot program that would permit a maximum of seven events per year in the 7,000 seat arena -- six one-day events and one multi-day event.

Currently NU charges separately for admission and parking at the school's events. To try to discourage people at the proposed commercial events from parking on neighborhood streets, they said, ticket prices for those events would include parking at the two on-site lots, with a capacity of 2,200 cars.

Davis said that since most people attending such events come two or three people to a car and other spectators would use public transit or ride-sharing services, he believes that parking capacity would be sufficient to handle a capacity crowd at the arena.

Polisky said it was difficult to predict whether the new events -- which have not been booked because of the lack of city zoning authorization to hold them -- would draw anything close to a capacity crowd.

But he said that many of the school's own events at the arena, other than men's basketball, draw crowds of around 1,000 people or less.

The city has the potential to gain tax revenue from the new events, but information presented at the meeting left the size of that gain unclear.

Hypothetically, if the school sold out seven events with a $30 ticket price, the city's taxes totalling 11 percent on athletic events could bring in $161,700 a year. For entertainment events, the yield from the 4 percent amusement tax would be proportionately less.

The school officials said there would additional financial benefit to businesses along Central Street that would find customers among the event spectators.


Lynn Bednar.

But Lynn Bednar, owner of Walsh Natural Health at 2116-1/2 Central St., said NU sports aren't of benefit to businesses, except for a few of the bars.

"The rest of us suffer from a huge lack of parking," Bednar said. "We dread when there's a football game," because customers can't get to the stores.


Peter Braithwaite and Eleanor Revelle.

At least two aldermen, Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, attended the session.

The proposed zoning change NU is seeking has not yet been scheduled for discussion by the City Council.

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