Ryan Field, the 47,000-seat home of the American football team of Northwestern University, is set to undergo a major renovation, thanks in part to a $480m (£349.7m/€409.4m) donation from the family of Patrick and Shirley Ryan.

The announcement marks the largest single gift in the Evanston, Illinois-based university’s history, and although the funds will also be assigned for biomedical, economics and business research, they will chiefly go towards a revamp of the stadium which was renamed in honour of Pat Ryan in 1997.

Originally constructed in 1926 and expanded in 1949 and 1952, Ryan Field underwent an extensive renovation in 1997, supported by a leadership gift from the Ryan family. The Ryans’ latest donation will provide the lead gift for the redevelopment of Ryan Field, aiming to create an enhanced gameday experience for students, alumni, fans and the surrounding community. Additional philanthropic gifts will be raised to complete the project. 
 
Northwestern said an important goal of the redevelopment is to exceed Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and make the stadium “exceptionally accessible” and welcoming to all attendees. The project also will focus on environmental sustainability opportunities.
 
The multi-year construction process will seek to provide an economic boost for the City of Evanston through job creation and increased revenue. Northwestern said it is committed to transparency and collaboration with Evanston neighbours throughout the construction process. The University will conduct listening sessions with community members before releasing design concepts and more specific plans.

“We deeply appreciate the Ryan family’s enduring dedication to our student-athletes,” said Dr. Derrick Gragg, Combe family vice-president for athletics and recreation. “The impact of their visionary generosity on past, present and future Wildcats is truly incomparable. The rebuilt Ryan Field will be a world-class venue befitting this institution’s pursuit of excellence in all areas.”
 
Pat Ryan added: “Shirley and I believe in the power of sports to develop the whole person – mind, body and soul for all students. This holistic approach prepares Northwestern student-athletes to be the leaders of tomorrow. And as long-time fans of all Wildcat teams, we have seen firsthand how powerful Northwestern Athletics can be in building community.”

The Ryans have long been active supporters of Northwestern Athletics and Recreation, including the Ryan Fieldhouse and Welsh-Ryan Arena venues.

Pat Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. At the time of his retirement, Aon had nearly $8bn in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries.

Image: Northwestern University