Wilmette’s Role in the Fight Against Northwestern’s Ryan Field Rebuild

Ted Marshall knew what he was getting into — heck, he even welcomed it — when he moved two blocks from a college football stadium in 1984. 

But he never pictured this.

Nearly 40 years later, a proposed overhaul of Northwestern University’s Ryan Field would make football games just one of a variety of events held at the venue. 

“It’s sort of like a kick in the pants,” said Marshall, who lives on the Wilmette side of Isabella Street. “No one who lives where we live would have ever suspected Northwestern would create a Wrigleyville-like environment. It comes as a real shock and a major disappointment.”

Marshall is one of dozens of Wilmette residents who have contacted Village officials to plead for help in contesting the Ryan Field plan, which was announced in September 2022.

According to a website dedicated to the project, the rebuild proposal was informed by feedback from the school’s athletes, coaches and fans, as well as neighbors and Evanston residents. School officials say the current facilities fall short in terms of accessibility, acoustic and light pollution, and modern amenities. 

The proposed new field will fit within the footprint of the current stadium, while the grounds will include more communal areas, such as green space, park area and landscaping. The development will include a canopy to help control light and noise from inside the stadium.

The new stadium shown within an outline of the current facility.

Plans for the site include “a new standard” of accessibility and inclusivity as well as LEED amenities.

“The new architecturally compelling Ryan Field stadium campus will address the deficiencies of the current stadium and community concerns, interests and goals,” the website reads. “It will feature a lower and more appealing profile than the current stadium and will serve as a year-round hub for community activities.”

Officials call it a project “for all of Evanston” and say that the facility can and plans to host local events, such as “winter festivals, holiday celebrations, student movie nights, intramural sports championships” and more for that benefits NU students. The stadium will also host “a limited number” of concerts each year with a goal of generating $35 million or more in annual tax revenue for the City of Evanston in the new stadium’s first decade.

A look inside plans for a new Ryan Field.

The proposal must get the proper approvals from the City of Evanston and school officials plan to begin that process within the next year. First, the project will be the subject of multiple community listening sessions over the next few months. 

Officials also tout the project’s economic benefits during the construction phase, saying that Evanston will benefit from $10 million in feeds, more than $600 million in indirect economic development and nearly 3,000 jobs.

“The new Ryan Field will be an improvement in every way and deliver a sports experience befitting one of the world’s great universities,” the site says. “It will be the preeminent site to take in a college football game as well as a gathering space for all ages.”

This article originally appeared in The Record North Shore, a local news nonprofit.

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