How Might a Lakefront Stadium Look?

by GoUPurple

Recent discussions, both on Rivals and at Lake The Posts, have posed the
always-lurking question: what to do with Ryan Field?  Northwestern's stadium now lags far behind all the other Big Ten sites, in terms of facilities and investment.  Should Ryan Field be renovated once again (it would be the fifth major renovation to the stadium since its construction in 1926)?  Should it be torn down, and a new stadium built?  And, if a new stadium were to be built, should it be constructed on Central Street, site of NU football since 1905?

While I certainly don't propose that NU should build a new stadium, and build it on a new location, I think the idea is interesting, at least from the standpoint of a thought experiment.  What would a new stadium possibly look like, if NU brought football back to the lakefront, for the first time since 1904? 

The following scenario is not possible, of course, for several reasons.  First, the cost would be comically high.  To revamp the lakefront campus and Central Street would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.  Second, Northwestern has already unveiled its plans for the Miller Campus (that is, the Evanston lakefront campus) for the next 50 years, and the plans look nothing like this scenario.  Finally, the City of Evanston would certainly nix any such proposal out of hand.  Still, let's assume that a lakefront stadium might actually be a good thing (and that's not a given, by any stretch).  Let's also assume money is no object, and Evanston agrees to the plan.  Here then is one possible layout for a new stadium...

The Current Map

The current footprint of Ryan Field is almost exactly the same size as the current Thomas Athletic Complex.  What if they were swapped?  The Central Street athletic complex would still include the athletic offices, as well as Welsh-Ryan Arena and nearly all non-football sports.

If a stadium were placed on the site currently filled with the Thomas Complex, what would NU do with traffic?  Parking?  Tailgating?

Here is one possibility.

The Experimental Map

In this scenario, traffic is maintained along Sheridan Road, both from the north and south.  The south campus garage (typically under-used during NU home games) would be expanded to three levels and would handle much of the traffic from the south.  The walkway leading from the south garage to the lakefill could be expanded (and could become the new Randy Walker Way), leading directly to the stadium.

The main corridor coming into the stadium from Sheridan Road, however, would become Lincoln Street.  Lincoln would be expanded into a three-lane plaza-like thoroughfare, allowing for two lanes of incoming traffic into the stadium (and two lanes outbound when games conclude).  The north campus / SPAC parking lot would be dug out, to make a two-level garage with a lower level partially underground. 

While the lakefill would not need to expand to hold the stadium, NU could expand the north beach, to allow for an additional area to host game-day related activities.  Wildcat Alley would become a made-for-TV beach bash.

The stadium itself would be a 40,000 seat stadium (I've used Boston College's stadium in these images), ringed by killer views of the campus to the west, the lagoon to the south, the Otto Graham plaza and the beach to the north, and-- of course-- Lake Michigan just yards away to the east.

NU would still provide shuttle buses to Central Street, where there would be additional parking, and a lot more room to stretch out for the more hardcore tailgaters.

Impractical?  Cost-prohibitive?  Borderline insane?  Sure, but just take a second to imagine walking into the lakefront stadium and taking in that view.  Attendance would take care of itself.