The NFL Draft will be in Philadelphia this year, and even though the event is still two weeks away, the league has already inconvenienced Philadelphians with roads being shut down, construction, the closure of at least one school, and garish branding.
First annoyed were the tourists. Visitors that came to Philadelphia to run the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last week were blocked due to the construction of the stage for the draft. “We specifically stopped here for a day to do the Rocky steps, this being the epitome of Philadelphia—the Rocky tour,” an English tourist told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Worse than denying English visitors an opportunity to pose for cheesy photographs is the fact that road closures for the late-April event actually began on Monday and will continue until May 7. That’s a month of road closures for a three-day event that is still two weeks away!
The draft is being held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a 100-year-old road that juts out of Center City Philadelphia at an angle and is the site of Philly’s museum district. It’s a fine place to hold a big event, but it also handles a lot of traffic in and out of Center City, and is dotted with apartment towers.
“The short answer is that the NFL Draft Experience includes numerous large structures,” city spokeswoman Lauren Hitt told Philadelphia magazine in a long statement attempting to explain why the roads need to be closed down so early. “We know this is an inconvenience for residents and we appreciate their patience. They are encouraged to take advantage of this free, family-friendly event or, if you’re not a football person, nearly all of the cultural institutions around the Parkway will be open and offering special deals and hours.”
The city did coordinate with neighboring residents on the Parkway. That’s more than anyone did for the nearby Russell Byers Charter School, which serves Pre-K through 6th grades and says it is being forced to close for four days during the draft.
“The Vatican approached us a year in advance with its plans, and we had no idea this was coming,” head of school Jesse Bean (Dean Bean?) told KYW Newsradio. “We ultimately have an obligation to student safety and access to a safe learning environment. And in this case, the city’s road closures simply precluded any kind of viable workaround for us.”
In September 2015, the city of Philadelphia pretty much shut down for a visit from Pope Francis. Car traffic was banned in Center City. The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, connecting Camden and Philadelphia, was closed, as was the Schuylkill Expressway. The NFL Draft won’t cause that kind of disruption, but it’s part of a trend of the Parkway being used to host ticketed events.
The Parkway has long been used for massive civic events—Fourth of July concerts, the free Live 8 charity show, an old event (sadly, no longer held) called Super Sunday. But in recent years it’s been rented out for more private events. Each year since 2012, the Made in America Festival takes over the Parkway for a weekend. Pope Francis’s visit, though a tad more important than a beer-sponsored concert, was ticketed as well. And the arena section of the NFL Draft will be ticketed, though there is a free fan fest area as well.
It’s expected to draw 200,000 visitors. The city is treating it as a massive chance to show off the city to football fans. Philadelphia even delayed the restoration of the William Penn statue atop City Hall so it wouldn’t be covered in scaffolding during TV shots. Philly also plans to replace the country flags that line the Parkway with NFL team flags.
Philly draft committee co-chair, former NFL quarterback and hot water heater salesman Ron Jaworski says it’s a good deal because 40 million people are going to see the city reflected well on TV, but it seems odd to shut down a major roadway for a month to do so. It wouldn’t have been as pretty, but shouldn’t this have been at the sports complex?
There’s one thing everyone can agree on, however: The giant banners the city has draped across its gorgeous, Second Empire-style City Hall are ugly as sin. They’re draped poorly. They look like they’re already fraying. They’re in a weird font. Philadelphians should hope this isn’t what the city is going to look like on television.