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Letter to the editor: Downtown Evanston backs Ryan Field revamp

Northwestern University is seeking to build a new Ryan Field to replace its current football stadium. Credit: Northwestern University

Downtown Evanston is where Chicago and the North Shore meet. We represent over 300 businesses, property owners and managers, nonprofit organizations and major institutions – all of whom make up the vibrant and rich culture of Evanston’s central business district.

It cannot be denied that one of our biggest assets in Evanston is the presence of a world-class university. The Northwestern University campus is adjacent to downtown and our businesses have had a positive, collaborative relationship with University students, faculty, and administrators for years. Just as important are the tens of thousands of visitors Northwestern attracts annually for conferences, speakers, prospective student visits, student/family/alumni events and weekends, performing arts, and Big Ten sports events. The University community and its visitors represent significant consumer spending through hotel stays, dining, shopping, and the use of business services.

Northwestern’s announcement to rebuild Ryan Field, turning it into a state-of-the-art stadium, and increasing the number of events the facility can host, is literally a game-changer for our local business community. According to the recently released independent economic impact study, when the new stadium opens in 2026 for football games plus additional concerts and other special events, it will nearly double the amount of annual economic impact in Evanston – from $50.4 million in current spend to $98 million – and five years out, that number is even bigger. Much of that new spending from Ryan Field patrons will be concentrated in downtown Evanston.

The hospitality and retail sectors of downtown Evanston include several hotels, 60 restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, and a myriad of shopping experiences and services. Most of these businesses are independently owned. Their presence in the district results in a walkable, charming business community that works together to support this unique neighborhood. Unfortunately, like in other towns across the country, owners of Evanston businesses were hit particularly hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some businesses were able to adapt to take-out or online purchasing, the loss of physical walk-in customers created a substantial hardship and, sadly, we lost some businesses.

But, with the concerts and sporting events that will augment the Big Ten football schedule, more people will come downtown for dinner or shopping, and some will stay in an Evanston hotel.

The Downtown Evanston board of directors wholeheartedly supports the exciting plans for a new Ryan Field. We ask the City of Evanston to work with Northwestern and the Ryan Field neighborhood to fashion a plan that minimizes the externalities of the added events on neighbors while taking advantage of this incredible opportunity to welcome more visitors to our community. These are challenges we can solve. Together, let’s embrace this powerful possibility for Evanston.

Mike Smylie, Chair
Downtown Evanston

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