Northwestern's Ryan Field rebuild hangs in the balance as Evanston nears critical decision on concerts

Northwestern University and residents of Evanston are now just two weeks away from learning whether the massive Ryan Field rebuild project will move forward.

On Monday, Evanston City Council held a special meeting for the public to comment before the big vote on November 13. There was nearly three hours' worth of comments from dozens of stakeholders, both "for" and "against" the zoning change Northwestern is asking for to host concerts at the proposed new venue.

Things got heated enough that at one point, the mayor had to pause the proceedings so security could resolve a verbal spat between attendees.

"This project, that Evanston will be taking on if they vote for it, will help so many people. Over 3,000 jobs," said Dan Allen, who supports the rezoning. He and other supporters said the $850 million proposed stadium will bring positive economic impact and tax revenue for Evanston.

"I think we really need to focus a lot on what Northwestern is offering. A $100 million community benefits package that is legally enforceable is an incredible opportunity for our city," said Sally Mabadi, who also showed up in support of the zoning change.

Others are not keen on the idea of more noise, more traffic, and less parking.

"All combined, this dramatic increase in a family residential community without adequate parking and streets is a major reason why so many of us are opposed to the zoning change. Please vote against this ill-conceived proposal," said Bob Sopel.

Evanston City Council heard hours of testimony, with nearly 150 stakeholders signing up to make a public comment. At one point, it turned so contentious, Mayor Daniel Biss had to stop the meeting while security dealt with an argument that broke out in one of the overflow rooms.

"That intensity and that passion is healthy and that community engagement is literally the very thing that makes us love Evanston, but there is a challenge inherent in that and a risk that things can become unhealthy, unproductive, and ultimately unsafe," said Mayor Daniel Biss before he began the meeting again.

Now that this exhaustive and contentious public comment period is over, the requested zoning change goes into the hands of the Evanston City Council, who will make a final vote on whether to allow concerts on November 13. Evanston's Land Use Commission already voted 7-2 to recommend not allowing concerts at the proposed new venue.