Northwestern University has reduced the number of special events it intends to host at Welsh-Ryan Arena from 15 to seven, but some residents are still concerned that it's too much for the neighborhood to bear.
As reported by the Evanston RoundTable, Northwestern's deputy director of athletics for external affairs and the university's executive director for neighborhoods and community relations, attempted to court support for use of the arena beyond Wildcat sporting events at a meeting with residents this week, even after halving their desired number of special events. The university's proposed amendment to the City of Evanston's permitted uses under current zoning would allow Northwestern to host up to seven (six one-day and one multi-day) professional sporting and commercial events at the 7,000-plus seat arena.
The university sought the change after the World Team Tennis group approached officials in January about using Welsh-Ryan for its tennis tournament.
Restricting events “deprives the City of Evanston and the University of additional revenues, jobs and positive media coverage,” according to university officials, who estimate additional revenues generated by non-NU events at Welsh-Ryan Arena potentially falling between $300,000 and $600,000. These revenues would help the city pay for public services and invest in critical infrastructure, and also bolster the city’s reputation as a regional entertainment destination, the officials stated in a release.
Officials are looking to host events “in a very moderate way — in a way that we hope will not be disruptive, to generate additional revenues. And when we do that everybody wins in our opinion,” said Dave Davis, NU's executive director for neighborhoods and community relations.
"My main concern living in this neighborhood is that you are bringing in an amount of traffic into this neighborhood and the infrastructure can’t sustain it,” said Dana Caspall, one of an estimated 100 residents in attendance at the meeting. “I want a good quality of life. I want a safe neighborhood, and I don’t want it to become, even for six or seven events, Rosemont Horizon in our backyard.”
In addition to reducing the number of potential events, Northwestern has included a sunset provision that would require new city approval beyond a two-year window. One resident said she feared the university is just looking to get its foot in the door first, before opening the arena to even heavier special events traffic in the future.
“That not our intent,” said Mike Pilosky, the deputy AD. “Our intent is to test it out to see if we handle it the right way.”