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

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

When the NFL held its first players draft in 1936, picks for the league's then-nine teams were made at Philadelphia's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Eighty-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 Museum of Art steps. The stretch of the Parkway from the museum to the Franklin Institute will hold fans watching the draft broadcast on Jumbotrons and taking part in free activities.

Some of the national flags that line the Parkway will be removed temporarily to make way for banners representing the league's 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 bother 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 starting 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 league 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 Corp., the city's public-private economic development arm, is contributing an additional $500,000.

The Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau is raising $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, Fourth 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 preparation.

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" pickup 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.

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 has 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."