Lawsuit filed against Evanston, citing 'backroom deal' over rezoning Northwestern's Ryan Field

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against Evanston, claiming the city harmed residents by cutting a "backroom deal" to rezone Northwestern's Ryan Field to allow it to become an open-air entertainment venue.

Thirteen plaintiffs and the Most Livable City Association are seeking to invalidate the ordinance that was passed by Evanston City Council, allowing Ryan Field to host up to six concerts annually plus other community events.

On Nov. 20, Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss cast the deciding 5-4 vote to allow the rebuild and rezoning of the stadium. The plaintiffs state six affirmative votes are required by the Illinois Municipal Code, rendering the passage of the ordinance "null and void," according to the lawsuit.

Northwestern wants to demolish the 97-year-old Ryan Field, home of the Big Ten’s Wildcats, at 1501 Central St. It would rebuild the stadium with modern sound and lighting to accommodate concerts and other events. Its seating capacity would be 35,000 for football and 28,500 for the maximum of six annual concerts the zoning would allow.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who supports the school’s plan, said it will benefit the community and shouldn’t be stymied by residents in one section of town. "For some people, this may not positively impact their quality of life. For others, it will be a dream," Reid said in an interview before the council meeting.

The Ryan Field opposition is centered on a wealthy part of town that pays high property taxes when NU pays none. Asked if the dispute has divided Evanston along economic lines, Reid said, "This is a split between those who prioritize the good of the entire city versus the concerns of just a few."

Critics with the Most Livable City Association and other groups have no quarrel with football but contend nighttime concerts would bring crowds, traffic and noise to their residential enclave. 

Read the full lawsuit below.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.