By Daniel I. Dorfman
The City of Evanston is the home of some high profile sports events nowadays given the undefeated and nationally ranked Northwestern Wildcats. But an ordinance prohibits Evanston from being the home of professional sports events and that is something one alderman would like to change.
The question about the use of athletic facilities arose following an inquiry by the WNBA Chicago Sky to see if they could use Welsh-Ryan Arena for a potential playoff game in their series versus the Indiana Fever. That game was scheduled for Sept. 23 and the Sky’s regular stadium, Rosemont’s Allstate Arena, was occupied that night.
The Sky approached Evanston officials regarding the use of Welsh-Ryan Arena. Seventh Ward Alderman Jane Grover, whose ward is the home of Welsh-Ryan, told the City Council Monday that she had met with City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and City Attorney Grant Farrar to discuss the request, but they said city ordinances would not permit the use of Welsh-Ryan Arena for a professional event.
Evanston Director of Community Development Director Mark Muenzer later said in an e-mail to Patch that the zoning ordinance for the area only allows non-profit and amateur athletic events.
A spokeswoman for the Sky confirmed that the team had thes discussions with Evanston officials.
After being turned down by Evanston, the Sky then put together a contingency plan where they would have played Game 3 on the next night at Allstate Arena. It became a moot point as Chicago’s women’s professional team were swept out of the playoffs following Game 2.
However, Grover wants to see if changes can be made to allow Welsh-Ryan to be used for one-time-only events. She said that a women’s tackle football team, the Chicago Force, plays at Lazier Field at Evanston Township High School. She did not think that Sky games where attendance is usually less than 5,000, would be a major problem on a one-time-only basis.
“There has got to be a way to make it OK for the university to host these events. They are not huge, high impact,” Grover said. “This would be the kind of event that would not have a huge impact on the neighborhood and would bring some fans to Evanston to spend their money and use otherwise idle athletic facilities.”
Mike Polisky, Northwestern’s deputy director of athletics, declined to comment.
Muenzer said that to amend the zoning code to allow for such events would require approval by both the Plan Commission and City Council.