NU-Wrigley pact could throw some Evanston businesses for a loss
Tina Steinbrech (left) of Iowa City and Lisa Arado of Chicago, joke around joke around while tailgating before the start of the Iowa-Northwestern game at Ryan Field in November, 2013. The university's pact to move some home games to Wrigley Field in co
Updated: March 8, 2013 7:25AM
EVANSTON — Northwestern University may have scored a touchdown with its Chicago-area Big Ten fan base, announcing Tuesday that the school and the Chicago Cubs have agreed to a five-year deal to use Wrigley Field for some home football games.
At the same time, don’t expect some Evanston business people and officials to break out their Purple jerseys and cheer “Sis, boom, bah!”
The university’s pact, starting this year, will throw a number of businesses and enterprises – including restaurants and the hospitality industry – for a loss on football Saturdays.
“It, the business community is going to take a hit,” said Dick Peach, newly elected president of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.
“We supported the university and sports department in this community for 100 some years when they were the doormat,” Peach said. “Now they’ve got support and won a few games and forgot who got them to the dance.”
He stressed that he was expressing a personal opinion because he hasn’t had time to run the issue before the chamber board.
Games in which opponents travel well with a large entourage – particularly the Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan and even Nebraska games later in the year – are a boon to the economy, he said.
“You’re taking the lifeblood out of us for those weekends – the restaurants, the bars,” Peach said, and Evanston won’t be the only one to feel the effect.
He said the last time some friends visited Hackney’s in Glenview on a football Saturday, “they couldn’t get in the door because of the Nebraska people. It was a sea of red and white. You drive by the Doubletree (Hotel) in Skokie. They’re sticking out of those hotels. The team bus, the band, everybody else, they’ve got to go some place.”
The city assesses an athletic contest tax that is projected to generate $760,000 in revenue this budget year.
The tax has been trending up in recent years, Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.
One less game in Evanston, translates to one less game of athletic tax that is collected, he said, and beyond that tax, he said, “there is a multiplier effect,” impacting a wide range of businesses.
The 178 rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1818 Maple Ave., are full on the busiest football days, said Barbara Klein, sales director.
For certain games, fans want to stay close. A shuttle stops in front of the hotel’s doors to take fans to Ryan Field. However, the hotel might not lose as much with the move to Wrigley because of its close proximity to the pubilc transportation, she said.
“You can’t say it’s a bad thing. It creates market buzz,” Klein said. At the same time, she added, “Don’t take it (to Wrigley) on one of my big games. You want to keep tax dollars in Evanston.”
Russ Abell, general manager of the 266-room Hilton Orrington/Evanston, said he saw both sides of the picture.
Once conference play starts, “all the hotels and restaurants are packed. The football games are important, especially to the overall business mix.
“On the positive side, I think the more (Athletic Director) Jim Phillips and Coach Fitz (Pat Fitzgerald) can raise the overall profile of NU, the more it raises the profile of Evanston and I think that makes life better for all of us.”
Although the pact was long rumored, local officials, including the city, reportedly didn’t hear about the agreement until the news broke.
Peach said the university might have showed more sensitivity to the issue. He could foresee officials talking about which games might be considered for Wrigley and which would stay in Evanston.
Members of the City Council have adopted a close working relationship with the university, most recently granting NU’s request to build a more than 400-space parking garage and visitor’s center close to Evanston’s lakefront.