Editorial: Evanston should approve Northwestern’s stadium

At its core, the battle over Northwestern University’s new football stadium in Evanston, and the zoning change allowing for the scheduling of six concerts therein, is a familiar one pitting substantial economic and educational benefits for an entire community against neighbors who understandably prefer their own peace and quiet.

The battle royal, and that’s an apt phrase in this mother of all NIMBY wars, is scheduled to come to an end Monday as Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss casts the deciding vote at a scheduled City Council meeting.

Biss should approve the university’s request.

We’ve supported this stadium from the start. Our enthusiasm began with Northwestern making no requests for taxpayer support, in contrast to some NFL teams of our acquaintance. Thanks to the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan family, this $800 million project comes fully funded. Neither Evanston taxpayers nor Northwestern parents paying tuition are on the hook.

As we wrote in September 2022, this looks like it will be a beautiful place to watch college football (the old joint is looking down at heel) and the many student athletes at Northwestern will also benefit from substantially upgraded facilities that won’t just be for footballers. Moreover, the new stadium’s capacity will be lower: about 35,000 instead of 47,130, which presumably will decrease the stress on the surrounding neighborhood in the event of a sold-out game with the visiting likes of Ohio State.

Predicted economic benefits are always disputed in cases like these so we won’t reiterate the claims and counterclaims. Suffice to say, any fool can see that the well-paying design, planning and construction jobs alone for a project of this size will be a significant generator of fiscal action for this region.

Now to the concerts.

Six nights a year (the negotiated current number) hardly is going turn Evanston into Las Vegas or even Wrigleyville. Once they have gotten over their pique at defeat, we’ll wager some of the angry neighbors will end up going to the shows, or throwing a brat on their grills and sitting out of a beautiful summer night and listening to Green Day for free. Some of their teenage offspring might be able to sell parking spots in the driveways too. We doubt presenters will be booking hard-edge youth acts at this particular venue. It’ll skew older, and life in Evanston and Wilmette will go on as before.

We said some weeks ago that the university should help its case with more benefits for its home city. It has now done so, claiming a $100 million commitment. The stadium’s detractors have argued, with some validity, that Northwestern didn’t overtax itself and has also repackaged some existing things that it already does for Evanston, where it pays no property taxes.

NU should be gracious in victory, should it arrive, and sweeten the pot some more. Evanston needs not just this revenue but the money that will come from fees and taxes on concert tickets.

As all this comes to an end, let the record show that no NIMBY debate in our memory has been more intense or harder fought.

The anti-stadium forces mounted a media blitz, trying to use Northwestern’s well documented but mostly irrelevant problems in its athletic programs to boost its case. The neighbors even persuaded some labor voices to oppose the stadium, despite organized labor almost always supporting big construction projects like this one. And the public comment period at a recent City Council meeting went on for hours.

We’ve run opinion pieces from both sides and yet barely a day has gone by without the anti-stadium people making their case to us. They commanded our utmost respect but didn’t change our minds.

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