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NFL Draft In Chicago Gets Bigger, Adds Ferris Wheel

By David Matthews | March 30, 2016 12:34pm | Updated on March 31, 2016 5:49am
NFL's "Draft Town" festival last year in Grant Park
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DNAinfo/David Matthews

CHICAGO — The NFL is putting a new spin on next month's draft in Chicago. 

League and city officials said Wednesday that last year's event, which drew an estimated 200,000 football fans to Grant Park, is going bigger in 2016, this time with a Ferris wheel. 

"A second chance means bigger and better," said Kara Bachman, executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission. 

If last year's "Draft Town" festival inhabiting Grant Park took up 15 to 16 football fields, this one starting April 28 will occupy more than 20, said Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's senior vice president of events. The focus of this year's festival will also shift further away from Michigan Avenue and more toward the lakefront, with TV sets and the draft's "selection square" where picks are announced encircling Buckingham Fountain.

The Ferris wheel will sit on a Grant Park lawn at roughly Van Buren Street, offering spectators sky-high views of the draft as well as the city skyline. A new area related to the College Football Hall of Fame will also be added. 

"We feel great about things, and we're going to take this year two in Chicago to another level," O'Reilly said. "We're going to showcase the best Chicago has to offer."

Last year, fans were able to run a 40-yard dash alongside NFL stars on an LED screen, hop in a skydiving simulator, or compete in a five-on-five flag football tournament, among other activities. Admission was free.

The NFL did not disclose food vendors, music acts, or renderings of the upcoming draft on Wednesday. But the league web site is promising an event "full of fun foorball activities" including games, youth football clinics, merchandise, and free autograph sessions with NFL players.

O'Reilly also told reporters at a news conference in Grant Park that the NFL is discussing making Chicago the draft's long-term home though the league is "still exploring all opportunities."

"When we were there on day three through [the last pick] ... and saw all the energy and enthusiasm of fans, it made us say 'this is a great home for the draft,'" he said. 

RELATED: Thousands Flock to Grant Park for NFL 'Draft Town'

Chicago was deemed a successful host last year, but city officials drew scrutiny for waiving a nearly $1 million park rental fee for the NFL, a multibillion dollar enterprise. On Wednesday, city officials indicated the fee would be waived again, citing the NFL's "tremendous investment."

Last year's draft delivered 37,000 booked room nights and an overall $82 million economic impact, $44 million of which was direct spending, according to a spokeswoman for city tourism booster Choose Chicago.

O'Reilly said even though the festival was being moved east in the park, he did not think traffic on Lake Shore Drive would be affected. The actual draft will start April 28 at Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, complete with a red carpet on Michigan Avenue welcoming college football stars and retired NFL "legends." 

The deadline for getting tickets to the events at the Auditorium Theatre for the first two days has passed. The deadline has also passed for seats for Saturday's draft at Selection Square. Winners will be notified by email on or around April 5, the NFL says.


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