With Northwestern University‘s plans to renovate Ryan Field, the historic football stadium located on Central Street, business owners in the area are expressing mixed opinions on the potential effects of the project. While some welcome the renovation as overdue, others are concerned about the impact on their businesses during the construction period and potential changes to game day traditions.
Last September, Northwestern University announced an ambitious $800 million renovation plan for Ryan Field, a nearly 100-year-old stadium that has served as the home of the university’s football team for decades. The renovation plan includes modernizing the stadium and also proposes hosting concerts and selling alcohol at the venue, which has sparked discussions and debates among the community.
One of the main concerns among business owners on Central Street is the potential impact on their businesses during the construction period. Although Dave Gaborek, vice president of Let’s Tailgate, the official merchandiser of NU Athletics, acknowledges that the construction may have short-term effects on his business, he believes that the “antiquated” stadium is in dire need of a renovation.
Expressing skepticism, Kandi Corbbins, owner of iKandi Hair Studio on Central Street, raises concerns about the University’s commitment to promoting Black businesses through the project, stating, “I’m not convinced with how they are portraying their support for the Black and brown community.” Corbbins said. “I don’t know how one has to do with the other.” She also worries about the potential increased traffic congestion that additional events at the new stadium may bring, which could hinder her business operations.
Donna Parise Byrne, owner of Pilates Central Wellness, located down the street from the stadium, shares similar concerns about the proposal for more events at the new Ryan Field. Parise Byrne acknowledges that she knew there would be approximately seven football game days a year when she first opened her business, but the increased street traffic during events may present new challenges. “Pouring 35,000 people into this neighborhood on a regular basis is very concerning to me,” Parise Byrne said. “I won’t be able to see people on stadium event days because people are not going to be able to get here.”
However, some businesses near the stadium are more optimistic about the potential benefits of the renovation. Samuel Licea, manager of Mustard’s Last Stand, a Central Street restaurant, believes that the rebuilding process will provide a boost in sales for his business. Licea previously told The Daily that he hopes his restaurant will benefit from construction workers eating at the establishment. Brian O’Malley, owner of bottle shop Beer on Central, also shares a similar sentiment.
While football games do help his business, O’Malley acknowledges that they are not “big linchpins” in revenue. He also thinks it would be “cool” for the new stadium to incorporate local vendors once it is built, but he understands that this proposal may not impact his store significantly. “I think that for our particular businesses, (the rebuild) would be good,” O’Malley said. “But I also don’t want to make light of how it would affect other businesses.”
The University has also announced a commitment to spending 35% of the project budget on local, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses. Businesses can fill out a vendor inquiry form on the “Rebuild Ryan Field” website to offer their services during the project. However, some business owners, like Corbbins, are skeptical of how this commitment will be executed and its potential impact on minority-owned businesses in the community.