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Northwestern releases early design concepts for dynamic new Ryan Field

Privately funded stadium campus will emphasize fan experience, accessibility, sustainability while creating a year-round community asset for Northwestern and Evanston communities
ryan field
The new Ryan Field is being developed as a modern stadium campus with beautiful plazas, an exceptional new community park as well as other publicly accessible greenspaces for residents to enjoy year-round community activities.

One year after announcing a transformative gift by the Pat ’59, ’09 H (’97, ’00 P) and Shirley Ryan ’61, ’19 H (’97, ’00 P) Family to build a new Ryan Field, Northwestern University today released renderings of a schematic design for the new stadium to replace the current 97-year-old structure. 

The new Ryan Field stadium campus will be funded entirely with private dollars — requiring no taxpayer financing — and will create a world-class home for Northwestern University Athletics. When complete, the new stadium will create a best-in-the-nation football experience for fans, student-athletes and the community.  

Proposed design highlights include:

  • A more intimate setting: Significantly smaller crowds — designed for a maximum capacity of 35,000, more than 12,000 fewer than the current Ryan Field, with a state-of-the-art canopy designed to focus noise and light on the field;
  • New community assets: The new Ryan Field is being developed as a modern stadium campus with beautiful plazas, an exceptional new community park as well as other publicly accessible greenspaces for residents to enjoy year-round community activities;
  • Accessibility: The new stadium will apply Universal Design standards and will set a new standard for accessibility and inclusivity, making it among the most accessible stadiums in the country; and
  • Sustainability: The project is designed to achieve Gold LEED certification.

The new stadium will be fan-centered, with the best sight lines in college football and a premium experience, including chair backs, for every fan as well as an innovative student section modeled on other sports; cutting-edge technology and scoreboards; upgraded concessions featuring food from local restaurants; and iconic design features inside and out.

“We are extremely excited to move forward with a transformational stadium project and grateful to our University leadership and to the Board of Trustees for their decision to take the next steps toward a new Ryan Field,” said Dr. Derrick Gragg, Combe Family Vice President for Athletics and Recreation. “We are all grateful to the Ryan Family for their unwavering commitment to Northwestern University and our academic and athletics programs. I have no doubt that the privately funded stadium will be a gamechanger for our football program, athletics department and the community, and will be in line with our other excellent facilities including Welsh-Ryan Arena and Ryan Fieldhouse.”

The Ryan Family’s gift was the largest in Northwestern history, and included funding not only for the new stadium, but the largest academic gifts in the history of Northwestern to accelerate breakthroughs in biomedical, economics and business research. This generous gift, which the Ryan Family has now committed to increase, ensures the new Ryan Field and plazas will not come at the cost of research, scholarship, student aid, tuition or staff and faculty support. 

“Our family’s commitment to athletics is much deeper than football. It’s about developing the body, mind and soul, which we experienced as undergraduates at Northwestern and have carried with us throughout our lives,” said Pat Ryan. “The new Ryan Field will be more than just an amazing home for Wildcat football. Our hope is that through this new stadium campus, Ryan Field is reimagined as an architecturally significant year-round gathering place for the Northwestern and Evanston communities that is accessible to all.”

Northwestern President Michael Schill called the plans for the new Ryan Field an important step for the University and the Evanston community.

“I am excited about this project, which will create a world-class new stadium that is befitting our world-class institution, our amazing student-athletes, our fans, our alumni and the Evanston community,” President Schill said. “I appreciate all the work my predecessor and the leadership team at the University have done to actively listen and solicit input from the community. I am looking forward to continuing that engagement and look forward to seeing this project come to fruition.”

Over the last year, Northwestern has been meeting with neighbors of the stadium, including formal sessions with the 7th Ward Working Group, led by Evanston Councilmember Eleanor Revelle, to understand concerns and prioritize community feedback on the design. Based on that feedback, the initial design concept includes:

  • Plans to reduce vehicular traffic when the stadium is in use. Some concepts under consideration include:
    • A complimentary bike valet program, to promote safe cycling while improving traffic flow and provide safe bike storage during game days;
    • A capacity reduction of more than 12,000 fans;
    • Initiating conversations with Metra, CTA and ride-sharing services to explore more efficient scheduling and availability on game days
  • A modern design that will reduce noise and light pollution.
  • Designing an underground loading and service dock, away from the sight lines of nearby residents and businesses.
  • A year-round facility that will further promote community engagement and offer opportunities for Evanston and local non-profit organizations.

To ensure the financial viability of the new stadium, the University is considering hosting a limited number of concerts each year. The University is not proposing a specific number of such events at this time, as it continues to fully analyze what is required for the stadium’s financial viability, and intends to work closely with the City of Evanston, residents and community partners in determining the optimal number of concerts per year. 

Preliminary market studies indicate that the current interest in concerts in the area could generate over $35 million in new tax revenue for the City of Evanston from Northwestern over the first decade of the new Ryan Field alone. 

The new stadium project will create significant economic benefits for Evanston. During the construction phase, the project will generate more than $10 million in direct fees and more than $600 million in indirect economic development for the City of Evanston. It also will create more than 2,900 new jobs during the rebuild.

The University also is committed to creating economic opportunities for minority-owned, woman-owned, and local Evanston businesses. The target for total subcontracted spending with local, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses for the Ryan Field project is 35%, with priority given to businesses and individuals located in Evanston.

The University plans to share additional concepts with the larger community through a series of listening and learning sessions over the coming months before formally beginning the entitlement process with the City of Evanston. The University looks forward to having conversations about potential uses and programming opportunities associated with such an amazing facility.  

The University is exploring all options to secure venues at which the Wildcats will play during construction. Residents can learn more about the project on the new Ryan Field website at

One of many philanthropic investments in Northwestern by the Ryan Family 

As the largest donors in Northwestern’s history, the Ryan Family has made broad and deep philanthropic investments across the institution, including academics. The Ryans have given in support of hundreds of different University programs. Among the most notable are: 

  • Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Hall is the home of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology (IIN), which brings together chemists, engineers, biologists, physicians and business experts from across the University searching for small answers to large, complex problems in areas as diverse as medicine, information technology, energy, homeland security, food and water safety and transportation.
  • The Ryan Family also contributed significantly to lab and research space within the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center on the Chicago campus.
  • Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Family Fellowship in Nanotechnology prepares top graduate students to assume leadership roles in academia and industry. Over the last 15 years, 218 fellows have been funded from 10 different departments across multiple disciplines. Approximately half of former Ryan Fellows have gone on to careers in academia; 44% are in industry; 4% are employed at other institutions, such as governmental agencies, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations and hospitals; and 2% are continuing their education.
  • The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts is the architecturally acclaimed home on the shores of Lake Michigan of the Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music as well as the theater and performance studies departments and administrative offices of the School of Communication. The center was dedicated on the Evanston campus in 2015.
  • The Ryan Family Chair Challenge has dramatically advanced research and teaching at Northwestern by driving the creation of endowed professorships across the University. During We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, the Ryan Family Chair Challenge matched gifts made by other Northwestern donors to establish 25 new endowed professorships, or chairs, across a wide range of disciplines including screen and stage writing, nanotechnology and biomedical engineering. The chairs will provide a dedicated source of funds for the chairholders’ scholarly activities and underwrite salaries for these faculty and members of their research teams.
  • The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Family Scholars Program provides financial support for high-achieving, low-income undergraduate students with exceptional leadership potential. Each year, in partnership with Student Enrichment Services, the Financial Aid Office designates a diverse group of 20 to 25 incoming students as Ryan Scholars based on their community involvement, civic engagement and financial need. Ryan Scholars have the opportunity to participate in community-building activities and cultural outings throughout the academic year. Since the program began, 297 students have participated in the Ryan Scholars Program.

About the Pat & Shirley Ryan Family

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, he was inducted into Northwestern’s Athletics Hall of Fame.

Shirley Welsh Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. In 2019, Northwestern awarded Mrs. Ryan the honorary title of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Mr. Ryan is distinguished as one of the nation’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. At the time of his retirement, Aon had nearly $8 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries. 

In 2010, Mr. Ryan founded Ryan Specialty, a service provider of specialty products and solutions for insurance brokers, agents and carriers. The firm provides distribution, underwriting, product development, administration and risk management services by acting as a wholesale broker and a managing underwriter.

Mr. Ryan currently serves as chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty Holdings, Inc., which completed its initial public offering in July 2021. The firm’s shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “RYAN.” Mr. Ryan is distinct in having founded and built two major New York Stock Exchange traded companies. 

Mr. Ryan is a member of the Chicago Business Hall of Fame, and a member and past president of the Economic Club of Chicago. He also is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame, a member and past chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, a recipient of the esteemed Horatio Alger Award and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a former director of numerous public multi-national corporations as well as many major cultural and not-for-profit organizations. 

Shirley Welsh Ryan is founder of, which is used by 40 million parents and healthcare professionals annually through its video-based website and social media in every country except North Korea. Three hundred U.S. institutions of higher learning use’s free materials. Mrs. Ryan’s pioneering work to empower every infant’s fullest physical development has won numerous awards. Two U.S. presidents have appointed her to the National Council on Disability in Washington D.C., which advises the U.S. Congress on disability policy.

In 2017, merged with the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, acclaimed for 32 years as the number one U.S. rehabilitation hospital by U.S. News and World Report.

The Medical Round Table (P.M.R.T.), created in 1990, is the first Infant Milestone Chart of typical and atypical development to be endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (A.A.P.). All material is in accord with the leadership of P.M.R.T. and A.A.P.

Mrs. Ryan is a strong believer in the power of early infant detection, therapeutic intervention, universal accessibility, and the concept that all children can learn. She serves on the boards of University of Notre Dame, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Alain Locke Charter School and WTTW-PBS. She also has served on the boards of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and Ronald McDonald House Charities; has chaired the Chicago Community Trust; and founded the Lincoln Park Zoo Women’s Board. For 46 years, Mrs. Ryan has led a Northwestern graduate-level course entitled Learning For Life.

Mrs. Ryan has been awarded honorary doctorates from Northwestern, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has received the Chicago History Museum Award for Distinction in Civic Leadership.

In addition to earning her B.A. from Northwestern, Mrs. Ryan studied at the Sorbonne of the University of Paris and the Ecole du Louvre in Paris.

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Ryan, the Ryan Family includes Northwestern Trustee Pat ’97 JD, MBA and Lydia; Rob ’00 JD, MBA and Jennifer; and Corbett.

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