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NU: Will limit sports complex concerts to 10

Northwestern University is now saying that there would be no more than ten concerts at the new Ryan Field and at nearby Welsh-Ryan Arena combined, if the city approves construction of the new football stadium.

Previous reports had stated there could be “as many as 12,” “up to 12,” or “10 to 12” concerts at the proposed 35,000 seat facility.

However, Evanston Now was first to report last year that Northwestern also planned to hold some of those events at the much smaller Welsh-Ryan basketball arena, which can only hold about 8,000.

In a recent virtual 2nd Ward meeting, Dave Davis, NU’s Senior Executive Director of Neighborhood and Community Relations said “we’re pursuing 10” total events.

Following that, in an email to Evanston Now, Davis confirmed that “the maximum number of concerts we’re requesting is 10 … and some of those concerts would take place at Welsh-Ryan Arena; however, the total actual number would still be capped at 10.”

It’s unclear what impact, if any, this reduction will have on the university’s efforts to get the stadium approved, nor on opposition — which is at least in part based on more crowds in the stadium neighborhood.

The board of directors of the Central Street Neighborhood Association recently came out in opposition to more outdoor concerts.

The group said it was not against a new football-only stadium with six or seven games a year.

However, the association added that “the commercialization for which zoning change is sought, more resembling the business of a for-profit entertainment conglomerate than higher educational purpose, wasn’t what any homebuyer or tenant bargained for ….”

A recent public opinion survey released by Northwestern showed majority support for the stadium rebuild, even among those living within a mile of the facility.

The survey concluded the majority of respondents, even stadium neighbors, were OK with having 12 concerts or fewer.

Evanston Now has a request in to NU to find out why the concert cap is now 10.

In the meantime, that lower number could end up having both positives and negatives for backers and opponents of the new football stadium.

On the one hand, fewer large outdoor concerts, as well as having some smaller events indoors, would likely mean somewhat less economic impact on the area, and fewer tax dollars for the city.

On the other hand, opponents painting a scenario of 35,000 concert-goers carousing through the streets 12 times a year might have to scale down their assessments as well.

Concerts at the much smaller indoor arena would presumably have less impact on the neighborhood.

Northwestern already hosts 38 home men’s and women’s basketball games at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

NU has not broken down how the music events might might split between the new stadium and the arena. The concert business is fluid, with certain acts more appropriate for certain venues.

One thing is certain, however. Northwestern argues that having concerts, whatever the number, along with the right to sell general admission alcohol at football games, are critical.

At a stadium presentation to business leaders in December, NU’s Davis said “if they [concerts and alcohol sales] don’t happen, this project doesn’t happen.”

If the project does happen, NU would play one more season at the present Ryan Field, with the new facility opening in 2026.

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