The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian


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Introducing Field of Broken Dreams

After a year of reporting, listen to a new podcast about Northwestern’s push to renovate Ryan Field

In the fall of 1997, around a year and a half after one of the most successful seasons in the school’s history, Northwestern re-opened its football stadium. The expanded concourse was one of the defining features, along with its new name, Ryan Field, that caused vast amounts of controversy in the community. Only a few years later, nearly all Evanston residents, except those most vehemently opposed to it, blanked on the debate surrounding the stadium.

Until a year ago, when Northwestern released design renderings showcasing plans for another updated stadium.

“This is going to be one of the largest to date college athletic facility renovations ever,” said Amy Blackbourn, Associate Director of Major Gifts and Premium Seating at Northwestern. “We are sparing no expense, and the Ryan family is very involved from the ground up into the construction fees. The City of Evanston is going to have Ryan Field here regardless of whether we build it or don’t build it. This is here to stay.”

The idea had been circulating since September 2021, when the Patrick and Shirley Ryan family made the largest gift in school history. While some of the money went towards biomedical, economics and business research, much of it went to renovating the stadium, which had fallen into disrepair since the 1997 renovation.

“When you walk in, you’re walking up outdoor ramps, everywhere you look there’s chipping paint, rusty worn-out bleachers and a half-empty, crusty stadium,” said Jared Tucker, owner of the Instagram account, northwestern_tailgate.

There were a few concepts of the renovation that sparked discourse in the community and beyond: Northwestern’s status as a non-profit and, therefore, its exemption from property taxes, potential alcohol sales in the stadium and an application for for-profit events such as concerts in the U2 zoning district that includes the basketball stadium, Welsh-Ryan Arena, and Ryan Field.

“We used to have a lot of trash in our park. I have pictures of all the trash that was left in somebody’s front yard. On Ashland Street, they would leave trash or pee or cause other problems,” said Yvi Russell, a Seventh Ward resident who lives nearby Ryan Field. “We also had problems with the ambulances. Somebody testified on council now that a relative died on the way to the hospital. They couldn’t get through the traffic.”

Northwestern is what Evanston is known for, and that holds for sports, too. In part because of the stadium and even more so because of the hazing scandal that plagued the football team for around 30 years, there’s been a national spotlight on the Wildcats.

Ordinarily, there is little to no broadcasted backlash when a sports team renovates, builds or rebuilds its stadium, which is partially why the Rebuild Ryan Field campaign has been so widespread and perplexing.

Groups have fought for and against Rebuild Ryan Field, for example, the Most Livable City Association, which created a campaign against the stadium called Field of Schemes. Pro-renovation residents founded a new group in response, Field of Opportunities.

Each has submitted endless letters to the editor to RoundTable and Evanston Now, and yard signs immediately popped up all over the city, professing the stadium was either a scam or a gift from God. There’s been almost no middle ground, as multiple people favoring Ryan Field have said to The Evanstonian, “I can’t understand why anyone would be against it.”

On Sept. 6, the Evanston City Council held the first of at least three Land Use Commission meetings devoted to Ryan Field. The hearing lasted from 7 p.m. until just past midnight, as the council wants to ensure that the hundreds of pages of public comments have time for expression.

“The people who are closest, they’re directly affected by this,” said Sixth Ward Alderperson Tom Suffredin. “I think it’s kind of ridiculous to say these are just some random NIMBYs. It’s like, well, no, they’re the people most directly affected by this.”

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About the Contributor
Mack Jones, Opinion Editor, Digital Content Editor
Hi! My name is Mack Jones, and I’m the Opinion and Co-Digital Editor on The Evanstonian. This is my second year on staff; last year, I was a staff writer, primarily for News. Outside of the paper, I play tennis, guitar and piano and referee for AYSO.
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