Judge dismisses 3 of 4 counts in lawsuit over Ryan Field rebuild

Judge dismisses 3 of 4 counts in lawsuit over Ryan Field rebuild

A Cook County judge Friday dismissed three of the four counts in a lawsuit filed against the city of Evanston over a City Council vote to allow use of the rebuilt Ryan Field as a concert venue by Northwestern University.

Cook County Circuit Judge Pamela McLean Meyerson ruled on two motions for dismissal of the three counts, one by Evanston and the other by Northwestern. Neither party sought to dismiss a fourth count, which is the most substantial of the four.

“The city and Northwestern aren’t challenging count one so whatever I rule today, count one is moving forward,” Meyerson said during the Friday court session. “They’ve already both answered count one saying what they deny rather than filing a motion to dismiss it.”

Meyerson said despite the lack of a challenge, this doesn’t mean the city or Northwestern admits fault, rather that if the case is lost, a claim for relief can be handled at a later date.

The complaint against Evanston, filed in November, alleged that the city needed greater than a simple majority in favor of an amendment to the city’s zoning rules that would allow the concerts. The amendment passed when Mayor Daniel Biss cast a tiebreaking vote following a 4-4 split among present City Council members. Council member Juan Geracaris recused himself from the vote because he has ties to the university.

The complaint was filed by about a dozen nearby residents along with the Most Livable City Association, a nonprofit organization founded in 2022 to fight the university’s plans to demolish and rebuild the 98-year-old stadium. Some residents opposed the venue’s use for concerts because the stadium sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood on the border of Evanston and Wilmette.

The count that remains alleges the city violated residents’ due process rights by assisting Northwestern through the zoning process to result in a positive outcome. Opponents of the stadium have called the process a “backroom deal.”

“Our first claim that the City of Evanston violated constitutional due process was not challenged in these motions and our lawsuit against the commercial rezoning of Ryan Field will continue,” read a statement from the Most Livable City Association following the ruling. “While we disagree with today’s ruling on our procedural due process claims, we will keep advocating for the full constitutional guarantee of due process that protects all residents from arbitrary government decisions.”

Those in favor of using the stadium as a concert venue argued the events would bring much needed dollars and foot traffic to the city’s downtown, which has struggled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Others have begun a campaign to unseat Biss, calling it the “Better Than Biss” campaign.

A status update for the lawsuit is scheduled for June 26.

“Judge Meyerson’s ruling today confirmed that the City of Evanston took the necessary steps to ensure that the permitted uses in the U2 zoning district were appropriately amended,” read a statement from the city. “The City remains committed to maintaining transparency and fairness in all of its decision-making processes and procedures.”

Northwestern has stated it will reserve comment until the case is fully litigated.

Demolition of the stadium is almost complete and the rebuilt stadium is expected to be completed by the 2026 football season. In the meantime, the Wildcats are expected to play a majority of their home games for the 2024 and 2025 seasons at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium, its lakeside venue for the university’s competitive men’s and women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams.