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Philanthropic gifts to transform Norris University Center’s East Lawn

Architectural firm SmithGroup will lead the reimagination of the outdoor space on Northwestern’s Evanston campus
norris east lawn
The updated East Lawn will feature amenities such as a plaza and pavilion for events and seasonal activities; an outdoor restaurant; space for food vendors; movable tables, chairs and umbrellas; a game terrace; and a lounge overlooking the lagoon.

Two new gifts from Northwestern University supporters are launching a major renovation of the East Lawn of the Norris University Center. Two couples — Trustee Frank Cohen ’95 and Julie Cohen and Ken Kahn and Jana Kahn (’25 P) — have each committed $3 million to the Evanston campus improvement project.

The East Lawn will be renamed in recognition of the Cohen family, and the space’s main plaza and pavilion will be named in honor of the Kahn family. Architecture firm SmithGroup has already begun the design phase of the renovation, which is projected for completion in summer 2024.

“I am thrilled by the launch of the East Lawn project, which was also very important to my predecessor, Morton Schapiro,” said Michael H. Schill, Northwestern’s 17th president. “The Cohen and Kahn families’ generosity will take this outdoor space to a whole new level and help shape the campus experience for students for many years to come.”

Prime location for community interaction

These gifts will help reimagine the East Lawn — an open field adjacent to Norris University Center, with stunning views of nearby Lake Michigan — as a prime location for student, faculty, staff and community interaction and collaboration on the Evanston campus. Early plans include the plaza and pavilion, which will accommodate events and seasonal activities; an outdoor restaurant and space for food vendors led by Compass Group, Northwestern’s food service partner; movable tables, chairs and umbrellas; a game terrace; and a lounge overlooking the lagoon.

“With this exciting transformation, the new space will be the perfect place for our Northwestern community to connect, engage, relax and recharge,” said Jeremy Schenk, Northwestern’s associate vice president for operations and services. “We are excited to partner with current students in the project’s development, as we want to design both space and programs that work for them.”

The schematic design process is projected to be completed this fall. After design development concludes in early 2023, a one-year construction timeline is planned to begin that summer.

“I spent considerable time at Norris University Center as an undergraduate and recognize the importance of creating open space for the community to collaborate, study or just have fun and relax,” said Frank Cohen, the Global Head of Core+ Real Estate at Blackstone and the chairman and CEO of Blackstone Real Estate Investment Trust.

Frank and Julie Cohen
Julie and Frank Cohen

An active Northwestern alumnus and volunteer, Frank received his bachelor’s degree from the Honors Program in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences with a double major in political science from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 1995. He received a Northwestern Alumni Association Service Award in 2014. In addition to his role on the Board of Trustees, he serves on the Northwestern University Leadership Council (NULC) New York Regional Board and the Weinberg College Board of Visitors and chairs Kellogg School of Management’s Real Estate Advisory Council.

The Cohens’ latest commitment brings their total giving to Northwestern to more than $6 million, including support for Weinberg College, Division of Student Affairs, Northwestern Athletics and Recreation and Kellogg. The couple, who have given annually for the last 25 years, are also members of NU Loyal, the giving society recognizing donors who support the University every year.

Julie Cohen received her bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University. The Cohens reside in Short Hills, New Jersey, with their three children.

Ken and Jana Kahn
Ken and Jana Kahn

“We are grateful for the wonderful education our daughter is receiving, and we want to support the University’s efforts to provide additional venues for students to gather,” Ken and Jana Kahn said.

Ken and Jana Kahn are the owners of LRP Media Group, which provides training and compliance services for human resource professionals in federal agencies and K–12 educators. Ken, the organization’s CEO, holds a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a JD from Harvard University. Jana, who serves as chief marketing officer, has a bachelor’s degree in human resources and management from Temple University.

The Kahns, who are also members of NU Loyal, are active supporters of Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) and Student Affairs. The proud parents of Alexandra Kahn ’25, a current SESP student, live in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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