City preps for NFL draft, Parkway flags to be replaced with team banners

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When the National Football League held its first players draft in 1936, picks for the league’s then nine teams were made at Philadelphia’s Ritz Carlton hotel.

Seventy-one years on the event will be a bit bigger – about 24 football fields bigger.

With the Benjamin Franklin Parkway set to be transformed into a football festival for an expected 200,000 fans later this month, police and city officials are finalizing the game plan for security and support.

“Everything’s going to be fine,” Mayor Kenney said this week. “There are logistical and convenience issues that we do understand and we don’t dispute. However, in order for us to get the international, national profile the city deserves, these big events are necessary.”

>> Click here for more coverage of the 2017 NFL draft in Philadelphia

The draft, Philadelphia’s first since 1960, will take place from April 27 to 29 in a 3,000-seat theater built at the base of the Philadelphia Art Museum. The stretch of the Parkway from the museum to the Franklin Institute will draw fans to watch the draft broadcast on jumbotrons and take part in free activities.

Some of the nation flags that have historically lined the Parkway will be removed temporarily to make way for banners representing the league’s now 32 teams.

The scope of the event, while smaller than the papal visit in 2015, will include security checkpoints and extensive street closures – some lasting nearly a month, to allow for the construction and tear-down of a large stage, to the chagrin of some neighbors.

In addition, the event will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday, presenting a challenge for commuters and residents.

“The logistics of that is something we’re working into our plan,” said Chief Inspector Frank Vanore, part of the police group helping to plan for event security.

Ellen Weiss, 60, who lives on Brandywine Street near the Art Museum with her husband and daughter, said she thought the draft was coming up much sooner than the end of April based on construction and street closures.

“I would have thought from the amount of chaos that this was stating tomorrow,” Weiss said. “This is massive..”

In its bid, Kenney said the city first suggested the sports complex or Penn’s Landing but the NFL was adamant about the location.

“They just weren’t interested,” Kenney said. “They wanted the iconic steps and I think it’s going to make Philly look really good.” Draftees are expected to run down the steps to the stage to shake the commissioner’s hand.

The draft will cost about $25 million to produce, mostly covered by the NFL. The city is on the hook for $500,000 in the form of city services, including police, streets and sanitation, according to a contract. Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, the city’s public-private economic development arm, is contributing another $500,000.

The Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau is raising another $5 million for the event, while also handling marketing and promotion citywide.

Vanore said the frequency of large events on the Parkway – such as the Made in America music festival, 4th of July celebrations, and the pope’s visit – has helped the planning process, since many elements of those preparations apply to the draft as well.

“That footprint of the Parkway and downtown is very familiar to us,” Vanore said, noting that agencies including Septa, the Streets Department, the Office of Emergency Management, and the NFL have been involved in draft prep.

A new wrinkle has been the explosion in use of ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

With so many roads set to be closed around the draft area, users won’t be able to have a driver meet them at their exact location when they’re ready to leave. Vanore said there will be a “cab stand” pick-up area on the 2400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Security for the event area itself will largely be handled by the NFL, Vanore said. The space will be cordoned off and visitors will have to walk through magnetometers before heading inside.

Police officers will attempt to keep people and cars flowing in the correct directions while still patrolling the neighborhood. Vanore declined to say how many officers will be detailed to the event, but said staffing levels would be increased around the Parkway for the draft’s duration.

Larry Needle, executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress at CVB, said Chicago, which hosted the draft in 2015 and 2016, brought in about 200,000 fans over the course of the three day event, about half from out-of state. Chicago estimated it took in $80 million in economic impact.

Needle’s projections for Philadelphia are about the same, though he said Philadelphia could see even higher attendance based on early registration numbers for tickets in the theater.

In the event of extreme weather – high winds or thunderstorms with lightning – city agencies along with the NFL will decide whether to evacuate the Parkway.

Drew Murray, president of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, described residents in his group as ranging from thrilled to frustrated. For Murray, an Eagles season ticket-holder who played football all his life, it’s an exciting event to have in his backyard.

“I will definitely be checking it out,” Murray said. “It’ll impact us but it’s also a once in a lifetime experience.”

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