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Complete renovation announced for Welsh-Ryan arena

Leadership gift from Patrick and Shirley Ryan to support project

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Welsh-Ryan Arena, the home of Northwestern University’s basketball, volleyball and wrestling teams, will be transformed as a result of a complete facility renovation. Construction will begin at the conclusion of the basketball season in March 2017 with anticipated completion by fall 2018.

A leadership gift from Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan, along with a $10 million gift from Stephen R. and Susan K. Wilson, donations from other loyal Northwestern benefactors and the existing athletics maintenance and equipment budget, will fund the $110-plus million project. A handful of new or renovated spaces in Welsh-Ryan are still available for naming.

“The inspiring leadership of the Ryans has benefited Northwestern in so many ways over the years, and we are extremely grateful for this latest gift,” President Morton Schapiro said.

“Simply stated, this is a historic moment for the future of Northwestern Athletics,” said Jim Phillips, vice president for athletics and recreation. “There are no greater champions for Northwestern than Pat and Shirley Ryan. We never will appropriately convey our gratitude for their vision and generosity, which have made a seismic impact on our University and generations of students. In addition, we are also incredibly appreciative of Steve and Sue Wilson’s continued unconditional support and leadership; they are truly two of our very best Wildcats.”

Phillips added, “The new Welsh-Ryan Arena will be a dramatic transformation for our varsity sports programs that call it home and for the fans who devotedly support our student-athletes. A central tenet of our commitment to providing a world-class experience for our Wildcats is a passionate home crowd. This complete overhaul of our most used and versatile venue will create a state-of-the-art experience accessible to all Chicagoland sports fans while they support our student-athletes in competition.”

The project, part of the 2010 master athletics facilities plan recommendation, will entail a complete renovation of Welsh-Ryan Arena and McGaw Memorial Hall, including:

  • New seating throughout the arena, with chair-back seats replacing existing wood bleachers
  • Wider, more accessible concourses with improved lighting to alleviate congestion
  • Improved accessibility for the mobility-impaired, with five new elevators replacing the existing one
  • New restrooms, doubling the number of toilet fixtures as well as the addition of accessible family restrooms
  • New concession areas with twice as many point-of-sale stations to increase efficiency, along with new food and drink offerings
  • State-of-the-art lighting, audio and video capabilities in the arena
  • Premium seating areas and expansion of the N-Club, which provides space for pre- and post-game events, by more than 400 percent. The club, which is located on the second floor, will be extended south onto Randy Walker Terrace at Ryan Field and provide expanded hospitality opportunities on football gamedays.
  • Expansion of the building lobby by nearly 50 percent
  • A new ticket office
  • New locker rooms for men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball
  • New offices for men’s and women’s basketball
  • Expansion of usable court space in both the main arena and fieldhouse.

Welsh-Ryan’s new seating configuration will be finalized in the coming months and communicated first to current season ticket holders.

The athletic department is in the process of arranging alternate locations for teams to practice and play during renovation.

Construction on McGaw Memorial Hall, in which Welsh-Ryan Arena is located, was started in 1951 and completed in 1953. In the early 1980s, aided by a leadership gift from the Ryans, the basketball arena was renovated and named in honor of the parents of Mr. and Mrs. Ryan. Additional improvements have been made to the building since that time, but this project will be the first top-to-bottom renovation of the entire structure since its original construction.

Patrick Ryan said, “Providing the funding for Welsh-Ryan Arena more than 30 years ago was one of our first major gifts to Northwestern, so we’re very pleased to now provide the necessary support for Northwestern Athletics to continue on its upward trajectory. We’re looking forward to seeing Northwestern’s teams in what promises to be a terrific space.”

Shirley Welsh Ryan said, “Welsh-Ryan Arena has been the site for many happy memories for our family, but we also are aware of the challenges that the building can create for persons who are mobility impaired. This renovation will enable Welsh-Ryan to set a new standard for accessibility.”

The new $10 million commitment from Steve and Sue Wilson brings the family’s giving to more than $27 million through We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern. The Wilsons previously provided $15 million in support of Northwestern’s lakefront athletics facilities, as well as other gifts to the campaign.

“Sue and I have been Northwestern fans for 50 years, attending games and cheering for our Wildcats,” Steve Wilson said. “We are sincerely grateful for the opportunity to make such a dramatic impact on the fan experience inside Welsh-Ryan Arena for generations of Northwestern fans to come.”

Patrick G. Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He received his undergraduate degree in business from what was then called the School of Business and now is named the Kellogg School of Management. He also received an honorary degree from the University in 2009 in appreciation for his 14 years of service as chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. In 2013, Mr. Ryan was inducted into Northwestern’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Shirley W. Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree in English from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Over their long association with Northwestern, the Ryans have provided leadership and support for: academic programs; scholarships; the construction of Northwestern’s Nanotechnology Center; support for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine; construction of the Ryan Center for the Musical Arts; construction of the Ryan Fieldhouse as part of the new lakefront athletics facilities; and renovation of Northwestern’s football and basketball stadiums.

Another recent leadership gift from the Ryans provided funds for a challenge match to create new endowed professorships at Northwestern University.  Eight benefactors have already established new chairs through the Ryan Family Chair Challenge, and several others are considering accessing the remaining two opportunities for endowing chairs under this matching challenge. Because of this success, the Ryans have agreed to add to the Chair Challenge so that benefactors can create an additional 15 endowed professorships at Northwestern. 

The Ryans serve as co-chairs for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, a $3.75 billion fundraising initiative designed to support the University’s strategic ambitions.

Mr. Ryan is distinguished as one of Chicago’s most successful entrepreneurs and prominent civic leaders. His first business venture while a student involved selling scrapbooks to fellow students, which paid for his Northwestern education. Mr. Ryan founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human resources solutions and outsourcing services. At the time of his retirement, Aon had in excess of $7 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries. In 2010, Mr. Ryan founded Ryan Specialty Group, a global holding company that includes wholesale brokerage (the third largest in the country), highly specialized underwriting companies and specialty services designed specifically for agents, brokers and insurers; Mr. Ryan currently serves as Chairman and CEO. He is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame, a recipient of the esteemed Horatio Alger Award, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Mr. Ryan has been a member of the Northwestern University Board of Trustees for 38 years, 14 years of which he served as chairman; he is the immediate past chairman.

Mrs. Ryan founded and directs Northwestern University’s graduate-level Learning for Life series and is a charter member of the Northwestern Women’s Board. She is Chair of, has been appointed by two U.S. presidents to the National Council on Disability, and serves on the Executive Committee or on the Board of Directors of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the University of Notre Dame, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. She has received several honorary degrees, including one from Notre Dame, where she was honored in 2015 for promoting full inclusion and accessibility for all people.

Beyond Northwestern, other beneficiaries of the Ryans’ philanthropy have included the Art Institute of Chicago, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago,, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the University of Notre Dame, the Alain Locke Charter Academy, the Big Shoulders Fund, and Access Living.

Both Stephen R. and Susan K. Wilson graduated from Northwestern in 1970, and Mr. Wilson earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in 1974. He applied the perspectives and skills acquired at Northwestern to building CF Industries Holdings, Inc. into a global leader in fertilizer manufacturing and distribution. He is the retired chairman and chief executive officer, serving 10 years as CEO. Mr. Wilson is now a Northwestern trustee and serves on the Comprehensive Campaign Steering Committee for We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern.

After graduating from Northwestern with a degree in journalism, Mrs. Wilson had an eight-year public relations career from which she retired to focus on raising their children, Elizabeth and Jeffrey, and for many years served as a volunteer at the Evanston Public Library. Currently she serves on the Board of Advisors of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern, is a member of the Women’s Board of Northwestern, and is on the Community Council of Y.O.U (Youth & Opportunity United), a youth development agency in Evanston.

The funds raised through We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern will help realize the transformative vision set forth in Northwestern’s strategic plan and solidify the University’s position among the world’s leading research universities. More information on the campaign is available at