Northwestern University is looking to build a new Ryan Field to replace its current football stadium. Credit: Northwestern University

Downtown Evanston is where Chicago and the North Shore meet. We represent more than 300 businesses, property owners and managers, non-profit organizations and major institutions – all of which make up the vibrant and rich culture of Evanston’s central business district.

There’s no denying that one of our greatest assets at Evanston is the presence of a world-class university. Northwestern University’s campus is adjacent to downtown, and our companies have enjoyed a positive, collaborative relationship with students, faculty and administrators for years. Equally important are the tens of thousands of visitors Northwestern attracts each year for conferences, speakers, prospective student visits, student/family/alumni events and weekends, performing arts and events. Big Ten athletes. The University community and its visitors account for significant consumer spending through hotel stays, restaurants, shopping, and the use of business services.

Northwestern’s announcement to rebuild Ryan Field, transform it into a state-of-the-art stadium and expand the number of events the facility can host, is a real game-changer for our local business community. According to the recently released independent economic impact study, when the new stadium opens in 2026 for football matches as well as additional concerts and other special events, it will almost double the amount of annual economic impact to Evanston – from $50.4 million in current spending to $98 million. – and five years later, that number is even bigger. Much of this new spending by Ryan Field customers will be concentrated in downtown Evanston.

Downtown Evanston’s hospitality and retail sectors include several hotels, 60 restaurants offering a variety of cuisines, and a myriad of shopping experiences and services. Most of these businesses are independently owned. Their presence in the neighborhood translates into a charming, walkable business community that works together to support this unique neighborhood. Unfortunately, like other cities across the country, business owners in Evanston have been particularly hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some businesses have been able to adapt to takeout or online shopping, the loss of walk-in physical customers has created significant challenges and unfortunately we have lost some businesses.

But, with concerts and sporting events increasing the Big Ten football schedule, more people will come downtown to dine or shop, and some will stay in an Evanston hotel.

The Downtown Evanston Board of Directors wholeheartedly supports the exciting plans for a new Ryan Field. We ask the City of Evanston to work with Northwestern and the Ryan Field neighborhood to develop a plan that minimizes the externalities of added events on neighbors while taking advantage of this incredible opportunity to welcome more visitors to our community. These are challenges we can solve. Together, let’s embrace this powerful possibility for Evanston.

Mike Smylie, President
Downtown Evanston