NFL Draft Theater on parkway is a big league production

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Disappointment is familiar to Eagles fans, so when two diehards took PATCO from South Jersey into the city Wednesday afternoon to see the gargantuan stage erected for the NFL Draft, they tried to stay positive.

“Well, we got some exercise,” said Frank Schuenemann,” 70, of Mount Laurel.

“At least we didn’t bring our cameras,” said his buddy, Dominic Golden, 70, of Cherry Hill.

The two men stood by a traffic light on Kelly Drive, craning to catch a glimpse of the eight-story “NFL Draft Theater” that has overtaken the iconic stairs in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The stage is impressive by any standard.

“It’s an engineering marvel,” said Eric Finkelstein, the NFL’s director of event operations.

Finkelstein said the theater is the biggest thing he’s ever been a part of, and the league’s first three-tiered theater. It seats more than 3,000 people, with balconies on both sides, and is 310 feet wide and 220 feet deep.

One IBEW Local 98 foreman said the theater is easily the largest stage ever built in Philadelphia, with “tens of thousands of feet” of wiring hidden neatly in the theater’s skeleton.

CSNPhilly cited an unnamed worker who claimed the stage was the largest ever built in North America.

The NFL didn’t know where the stage ranked worldwide, although Guinness World Records said the largest “temporary” stage ever built was for an art fair in New York in 2012. That stage measured 275,007 square feet.

The NFL did not release the square footage numbers for its theater, but based on its width and length, it’s not a record-breaker.

A Department of Licenses & Inspections spokeswoman did not return a request for comment.

Finkelstein said the NFL simply fell in love with the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and was determined to utilize the museum’s steps in the draft experience.

Almost none of the theater was visible to the public Wednesday. Chain fencing and security funneled people around the venue. Golden and Schuenemann said the NFL Shop wasn’t even open yet.

“They should have let us wet our whistle,” Schuenemann said.

Few fans will see the labyrinth of rooms above and behind the stage, a maze of black cloth and blue and red lights, sectioned off for draft prospects and their parents.

One room features a printer that will emblazon the last name of a player on his team’s jersey seconds after he’s picked.

On the stage, the NFL built foam columns that resemble the museum columns it’s blocking.

The entire NFL Draft Experience, according to the league, is the largest fan festival it has created, about 25 football fields long.

Back on Kelly Drive, another tourist from South Jersey, Catherine Sampson, had a camera and tried to get a glimpse of the stage, but it was blocked by trees.

“I don’t even see it,” she said. ‘Where is it?”

Sampson said she wasn’t sure if she’d return Thursday, when the draft begins.

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