EVANSTON, IL — The Evanston City Council is poised for a pivotal final vote Monday on Northwestern University’s plan to redevelop Ryan Field.

The meeting is due to kick off less than 48 hours after city officials released a the latest draft version of a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the university.

The 13-page document includes a public benefits package that includes promises of payments over a 15-year period if councilmembers approve the proposal, which includes a plan to redevelop the stadium and permanently rezone the area to allow six public-facing concerts a year.

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Two weeks ago, Mayor Daniel Biss cast a deciding vote to break a 4-4 tie in favor of granting preliminary approval to Northwestern’s request to rezone a reconstructed Ryan Field, rejecting the recommendation of the Land Use Commission he had appointed.

More than two years ago, university officials announced billionaire donor Pat Ryan had earmarked an unspecified portion of a record-breaking $480 million contribution to the university for the redevelopment of the field, which has borne his name since 1997 after he financed a previous renovation to the tune of $10 million.

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University officials initially requested permission to host 15 concerts a year. They later negotiated down to six, indicating it was the minimum they would accept in order to proceed with the project.

The debate over the stadium has been intense, with residents organized against the project raising concerts about increased traffic, noise and other disruptions on the quality of life.

Economic impact studies commissioned by the city and by Northwestern suggest the new stadium would bring nearly $78 million in additional spending and more than 500 new full-time jobs.

The latest last-minute revisions to the MOU — the previous version of which was first introduced by university officials on the eve of the preliminary City Council vote — call for an increase in the total value of the package to more than $150 million. However, an Evanston RoundTable analysis found a significant portion of that money was already being paid.

The latest version of the MOU now also includes a clause allowing the university to withdraw its 15-year funding pledge it can show that city officials are making it unreasonably difficult for it to hold concerts.

“In the event that Northwestern demonstrates that such unreasonable restraints being imposed by the City adversely effect Concerts beyond general market risk factors, then such public benefits will be reduced and/or eliminated accordingly at Northwestern’s discretion,” it said. “Any disputes between the Parties related to such restraints and their impact on Concerts that remain unresolved after good faith negotiations between the Parties shall then be subject to mediation.”

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Northwestern University President Michael Schill was questioned by professors about the costs of the stadium last month, according to minutes of a faculty senate meeting.

Staff asked Schill about the approximately $400 million shortfall between the Ryan family’s donation and the estimated total project cost. Schill said the cost of the rebuild would be funded by more donations, “some University capital, as well as debt that will be paid by the operations of Ryan Field.”

In the initial vote, Alds. Krissie Harris, 2nd Ward; Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward; Bobby Burns, 5th Ward; and 8th Ward Devon Reid all voted in favor of the rezoning. Alds. Clare Kelly, 1st Ward; Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward; Thomas Suffredin, 6th Ward; and Eleanor Revelle, voted against it.

Biss’s vote can tip the scales on the nine-member council because 9th Ward Ald. Juan Geracaris works for Northwestern and has recused himself from the process. Geracaris, like Harris, was initially appointed by Biss. In the final weeks of a contested race for the City Council this spring, Harris returned at least $12,000 in campaign connected to the Ryan family, according to campaign finance records.

Monday’s votes coincide with the City Council’s initial consideration of a record-breaking $449 million 2024 city budget — the city is now set to spend more than 34 percent more than it did in its 2019 budget. Approving the stadium plan could avert a proposed 7.9 percent property tax increase or any cuts to planned spending.

Monday’s meeting is due to begin at 5 p.m.


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