Evanston greenlights $800M Northwestern stadium development

Northwestern University agreed to $157M benefits agreement

Evanston Approves $800M Northwestern Stadium Development
Mayor Daniel Biss with rendering of redeveloped Ryan Field (City of Evanston, Northwestern University Athletics, Getty)

Northwestern University’s home football scene is poised for a massive makeover after scoring a crucial tiebreaking vote from Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss.

Evanston’s City Council granted approval on Monday night for three Northwestern University proposals, including a controversial $800 million new football stadium slated to host concerts, Crain’s reported.

Biss cast the decisive vote, resulting in a 5 to 4 split on contentious issues with the Northwestern requests, specifically a text amendment allowing six concerts at the stadium and a memorandum of understanding featuring a $157.5 million community benefits agreement over 15 years.

The council voted 6 to 2 in favor of the stadium’s planned development, replacing the outdated Ryan Field with a modern design. However, nearby residents opposed the move, branding it the “commercialization” of Northwestern, which is a tax-exempt nonprofit.

The Most Livable City Association expressed dissatisfaction, asserting that the city’s Land Use Commission had rejected commercial rezoning for the stadium, and legal action is now being pursued.

Responding to backlash, Northwestern President Michael Schill announced a reduction in annual concerts from 10 to six. Despite the concession, the university insisted on the concerts to help cover operational costs and boost sponsorship.

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Northwestern escalated the stakes by asserting that the entire stadium project would be scrapped if the zoning change allowing concerts failed, transforming the vote into a decisive moment for the stadium’s fate. To sweeten the deal, the university increased the community benefits agreement to $157.5 million over 15 years, up from the initial offer of $100 million over 10 years, the outlet reported.

Critics argued that the agreement duplicates existing concessions and demanded a contract tied to the stadium’s lifetime. Some council members criticized the negotiation process as chaotic and messy.

Biss, the mayor, faced scrutiny for his handling of the divisive issue, leading to the formation of a “Better than Biss” website by disgruntled residents seeking an opposing candidate in the 2025 mayoral election.

A pair of studies regarding the development’s economic impact estimate that Evanston could reap tens of millions of dollars in benefits, on top of $2.5 million in annual tax revenue that the university is guaranteeing following the stadium’s completion. However, residents near the proposed site expressed concerns about traffic and noise pollution, underscoring the neighborhood opposition highlighted by the Land Use Commission’s 7-2 vote against recommending the controversial text amendment.

— Quinn Donoghue 

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