Transforming Welsh-Ryan Arena At Northwestern

The $110 million renovation and expansion project is part of the university's 2010 master athletics facilities plan recommendation.

Northwestern University selected Mortenson Construction to transform its Welsh-Ryan Arena into a world-class playing and practice facility for the university’s basketball, volleyball, and wrestling teams. The $110 million renovation and expansion project began in mid-March 2017, just as Northwestern’s men’s basketball team made its first run in the NCAA basketball tournament. The architect for the project is HOK.

Northwestern University
Rendering of new court at Northwestern University Welsh-Ryan Arena (Image: HOK)

“The new Welsh-Ryan Arena shows Northwestern University’s commitment to making the best sports experience for student-athletes and fans alike. The university has devoted a lot of thought to designing a state-of-the-art sports facility that offers a great experience for players, coaches, students, alums, faculty, and others while also making it the most accessible arena in the Big Ten and environmentally friendly with sustainable materials and features,” said Greg Werner, senior vice president and head of the Chicago office for Mortenson Construction.

A national leader in collegiate and professional sports construction as well as one of the largest general contractors in the U.S. and in the Chicago market, Mortenson specializes in complex, ambitious new construction and renovation work. Its sports expertise is wide and varied: Locally, the company renovated the Chicago Bears’ Halas Hall complex and built Northwestern’s women’s field hockey field, the only collegiate field in the United States that has earned the FIH global certification for meeting the highest performance standards.

The Welsh-Ryan Arena is scheduled to complete in the fall of 2018, so each sports team misses just one season playing in the arena. In addition to the aggressive 18-month construction schedule, the work site poses some logistical challenges: The arena is closely surrounded on all sides, with Northwestern’s football stadium, softball and baseball fields, offices, and training facilities. It’s in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Evanston and bordering Wilmette, which requires coordination with both towns.

Northwestern University
Rendering of new locker room in arena (Image: HOK)

“Mortenson brings in-depth knowledge about sports construction, local expertise, and the proven ability to meet an accelerated schedule while delivering top quality and safety,” says Steven Himes, Northwestern’s senior project manager. “Mortenson also is a leader in the innovative use of technology and Lean techniques for construction, which is going to be key in helping us achieve our goal of developing a state-of-the-art sports arena.”

The amenities and improvements to Welsh-Ryan Arena include:

  • New seating throughout the arena, with chair-back seats replacing wood bleachers
  • Wider, more accessible concourses, with improved lighting, to alleviate congestion
  • Improved accessibility for the mobility-impaired, with five new elevators replacing the existing one
  • New restrooms as well as the addition of accessible family restrooms
  • New concession areas with additional point-of-sale stations to increase efficiency, along with new food and drink offerings
  • State-of-the-art lighting, audio, and video capabilities in the arena
  • Premium seating areas and expansion of the N-Club, which provides space for pre- and post-game events. The club, which is located on the second floor, will provide expanded hospitality opportunities on football game days
  • Expansion of the building lobby by nearly 50%, a new ticket office, new locker rooms, and new offices.
Northwestern University
(Photo: Mortenson Construction)

The project is funded by a leadership gift from Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan, along with a $10 million gift from Stephen R. and Susan K. Wilson, donations from other loyal Northwestern benefactors, and the existing athletics maintenance and equipment budget.