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NU president joins push for new stadium

To apply a basketball term to a football stadium, Northwestern University is putting on a full-court press to gain public support for rebuilding Ryan Field.

University president Michael Schill, Athletics Director Derrick Gragg, and other NU officials made their case Monday night at a meeting sponsored by the Evanston/North Shore chapter of the NAACP.

Schill said Northwestern is committed to having 35% of construction contracts for the new stadium go to minority and women-owned businesses.

With more than 2,000 construction jobs expected for the project, Schill said NU “will create an available pipeline to go from a job to a career” for some of those helping to build the facility.

Many of the half-dozen or so questions dealt with minority hiring and job training for the $800 million, privately financed stadium, which requires City Council approval before it can move forward.

A rendering of the planned new Ryan Field.

One attendee said while he “appreciates the university’s ambition,” he was afraid that the general contractor might be able to pay a penalty fee instead of meeting the 35% minority/female subcontractor goal.

“How,” the questioner asked, “will we hold the contractor’s feet to the fire?”

NU Director of Athletics Derric Gragg.

Director of Athletics Derrick Gragg said NU is “committed” to the 35% number.

Former Ald. Peter Braithwaite, who is the university’s director of diversity, added that “the fact that we’re here a year and a half early,” talking, before construction would even start,” shows NU is committed to minority and female-owned businesses.

Most of those in the 75-person audience who asked questions, as well as those online in a chat, were supportive, or simply seeking information.

However, one in the crowd said Northwestern needs to do more for the local public schools, nonprofit agencies and the 5th Ward.

“Sometimes we’re on two different planets,” he said about the university and the community.

“I hear you,” said Schill. “This is important to us too.”

One step Northwestern is taking, according to Dave Davis, executive director of neighborhood and community relations, is to create a community fund for the 7th Ward, where Ryan Field is located. The fund, he said, was recommended by a neighbor.

Northwestern is also collecting signatures in support of the new stadium.

In the meantime, a group of stadium neighbors calling themselves the Most Livable City Association, said they have collected approximately 500 signatures in an online petition against the stadium plan.

The group, which opposes concerts planned for the new Ryan Field, says Northwestern’s intent to host up to a dozen such events a year would turn the stadium “into a huge profit center with a smattering of football games.”

Northwestern has said the concerts (some of which would be held indoors at Welsh-Ryan arena, and not outdoors at the new football field) are needed for the financial viability of the stadium.

The neighbors group says Northwestern should pay property taxes if it wants to run for-profit concerts, and also wants an independent financial analysis of the university’s economic impact claims.

There were no similar questions or demands from anyone in the NAACP meeting.

Ending now with a track-and-field reference, if all the hurdles can be cleared by NU, the current Ryan Field will be torn down after the end of the next football season, with the new stadium opening in 2026.

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