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Parkway, and perhaps Rocky steps, to be stage for 2017 NFL draft

It's official. The 2017 NFL draft will be held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Mayor Kenney (left) and former Eagle Ron Jaworski confirm the big catch. “As a lifelong Eagles fan … I can’t tell you how wonderful this is,” Kenney said.
Mayor Kenney (left) and former Eagle Ron Jaworski confirm the big catch. “As a lifelong Eagles fan … I can’t tell you how wonderful this is,” Kenney said.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

It's official. The 2017 NFL draft will be held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

And if Mayor Kenney has his way, first-round picks will take a jog up the Art Museum steps à la Rocky as they are announced.

Representatives from the NFL and the Eagles joined Kenney at City Hall on Thursday to announce the location for the 82nd draft, scheduled for April 27 to 29.

The NFL will create an outdoor theater in front of the Art Museum for the event and transform the surrounding area into "Draft Town."

"As a lifelong Eagles fan, green blood in my veins, I can't tell you how wonderful this is," Kenney said at the announcement, a silver NFL draft helmet on the lectern to his left.

The first NFL draft was held 80 years ago at the original Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia. The last time the city hosted the event was 1960 at the Warwick Hotel.

Organizers estimate the three-day event will cost $25 million, with the city on the hook for $5 million and the NFL paying for staging and related costs.

Julie Coker Graham, CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a fund-raising effort would soon be underway to raise a share of the city's portion.

The city has committed $500,000 in tax dollars and is receiving a $500,000 grant from the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp., the city's public-private development organization, to put toward the event.

The festivities surrounding the draft are free. Tickets for seats to view the selections in the outdoor theater will be available through a free lottery sometime in early spring.

The draft has been in Chicago the last two years and was previously in New York.

This is the first time all three days of the draft will take place outdoors. More than 200,000 fans are expected to descend on the city.

For some Eagles fans, it may be an unfortunate sports year for the draft to come to town.

The Eagles have traded away their first-round selection, the central part of the event. The team has picks in the second and seventh rounds.

Ron Jaworski, the former Eagles quarterback and an ESPN analyst, said he was confident Eagles fans will still turn out for the festivities in their backyard.

He said the city was selected in large part because of its passionate fan base.

"This really isn't about one team. This is about the NFL and football, and this is a football town," Jaworski said. "Would it have been better [with a top draft pick]? Sure, but Howie's a good negotiator," referring to Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman. "I'm still hoping maybe he'll slide something through. This is a huge event for the city. I have no doubt fans will turn out."

Jaworski, who will cochair the host committee, credited the city, along with its visitors bureau and the Eagles, for helping secure the event. He also singled out John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty, the Electricians union boss who also serves as head of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. (Last month, Dougherty's home and office were searched by the FBI as part of an investigation into, among other things, the misuse of union funds.)

"I look around this room, I see John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty standing back there. Without the building trades, this wouldn't happen," Jaworski said. Dougherty, on cue, tipped his white Eagles cap.

Eagles president Don Smolenski said the city had been working on a bid for a while - holding off in 2015 and 2016 because of the papal visit and Democratic National Convention. The city has a one-year deal with the league, with an option for a second year. Smolenski said the hope is Philadelphia remains draft host for a few consecutive years or becomes part of a steady rotation.

"We're hoping, much like Chicago, we showcase how great our city is for this kind of event," he said. "Whether that ultimately leads us to getting it back in 2018 or getting it back in some future year, that's our goal."

U.S. Rep. Robert Brady, who first told the Inquirer and Daily News that the draft was coming to Philadelphia back in July, said the draft appeals to a slice of Philadelphia that might not have been as interested in the city's last two big events.

"We had the pope, then we had the convention. This is for, like, the locals, the Joe Six-Packs - and a lot of ladies love football too - but I think it'll be a great event for the common kind of people," Brady said.

The Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the event will bring in $86 million for the city, including $6.8 million in direct state and local taxes.

The Parkway is in the midst of a major construction project that won't be completed until 2019. City officials said the schedule would not be affected by the draft.

Peter O'Reilly, director of events for the NFL, said specific renderings and plans for what the Parkway will look like won't be completed until after the Super Bowl.

"Right now," he said, "we're just hoping for blue skies in April."

215-854-5506 @juliaterruso

Staff writer Zach Berman contributed to this article.