By Shawn Gakhal
With the eve of the NFL draft only 11 days away, the NFL released details on Draft Town, the three-day fan festival, last Tuesday in multiple renderings, which highlights fan festivities in Grant Park.
While the NFL Draft takes place in the Auditorium Theatre on Thursday, April 30, Draft Town will officially open at 4 p.m. of the same day.
The draft has been held in Radio City Music Hall in New York for the last 51 years but, according to NFL Senior Vice President of Events, the idea of Chicago as a possible draft venue presented an opportunity.
“We never had the opportunity to have a beautiful park, like Grant Park, right next to the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University and allow fans to have that experience of the entire park. Every fan has a piece of it,” O’Reilly said.
Draft Town, which is free to fans, will encompass Congress Parkway, Michigan Avenue and on Columbus Drive.
Draft Town will span 15 football-sized fields, which will include a Super Bowl museum, a tavern, a draft shop, LED screens where fans can view the draft and a concert to end festivities on Saturday, May 1.
Also, a highlight of Draft Town is Selection Square, where teams will be able to make draft choice outdoors along Congress Parkway.
“That is the area where teams operations and the picks will come into,” O’Reilly said.
At the Super Bowl museum, fans will have the chance to take their pictures with the Vince Lombardi trophy and Super Bowl rings.
Still, the goal is to leave behind a legacy in Chicago, O’Reilly says.
“The goal really is to bring to life the vision [that] I think we all had when we look out into the park and that was a mass of fans who had a tremendous experience, were able to connect with other fans and with the NFL in ways they never had before,” O’Reilly said.
Don Welsh, CEO and President of Choose Chicago, talked about how integral the Auditorium Theatre was to the city hosting the NFL Draft.
“Had it not been for Roosevelt to provide the Auditorium [Theatre], we would not have been able to go to step two, so that was the most critical element,” Welsh said. “When they looked at optional facilities here, the Auditorium was clearly the most viable one that they [NFL] considered.”
Fans will also get the chance to run the 40-yard dash, and fan caves tents will be set up, which will be dedicated to each team.
Depending on how the NFL Draft runs in Chicago, the NFL has the option to move it next year to a different venue in another city. The deadline will be somewhere around Sept. 30, according to Welsh.
“We’re hopeful that through the performance of the city and all of the other elements that they will access, they’ll be back for 2016 as well,” Welsh said.
Welsh, like many in the city, hopes that the draft makes an impact on the community.
Kara Bachman, the executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission, discussed how the draft will effect the great Chicago community.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for Chicago to be showcased in a very positive event that allows so many participants, locals and visitors, ” Bachmann said. “I just think that sport is a wonderful, unique and universal way of bringing people together and bringing positive things to a community.”
Construction to build Draft Town is expected to be this week, and the NFL is working with C3 Presents on coordinating it, according to O’Reilly. C3 Presents has previously helped in planning Lollapalooza.
Draft Town will officially open on Thursday, April 30 from 4-10 p.m., Friday, May 1 from 4-10 p.m. and Saturday, May 2 from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.