Plans for NFL Draft in Cleveland move forward, remain flexible amid coronavirus concerns

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – With the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland now less than 100 days away, organizers said plans for a live event on the lakefront are moving forward but remain flexible amid the uncertainties of the pandemic.

The Draft is scheduled to begin on April 29.

“They still are hoping for a large, live event,” Greater Cleveland Sports Commission President and CEO David Gilbert said of the NFL.

He said a large outdoor event on the lakefront is still planned, even as the coronavirus and uncertain health guidelines create new challenges.

“What needs to be done now is a lot of different planning for multiple scenarios. And then, based on where we are at different points in time, be able to pull the trigger,” Gilbert said.

Thursday, crews with Independence Excavating began preparing for demolition of two warehouses north of FirstEnergy Stadium on North Coast Harbor.

Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley said the city is paying around $700,000 for demolition to create more space for the draft. He said demolition work expected to begin as soon as this week.

Gilbert said the NFL is planning a large outdoor footprint that will be free but have time-ticketed access to control the number of people.

“What that number is is still yet to be determined based on where we stand,” he said.

An NFL spokesperson said planning for the Draft continues.

 “As the league has been through the entire pandemic, we will remain flexible and adaptable to ensure all plans are in accordance with CDC and local health guidelines,” the spokesperson said in a statement to FOX 8 News.

Gilbert said health precautions will be a critical component of the event.

“No matter what’s done and how it’s done, that has to be first and foremost in everybody’s mind,” he said.

While the Draft won’t look like the large street party Nashville hosted in 2019, and the associated economic impact will be less than hoped, Gilbert said it may still provide a needed boost to the struggling downtown Cleveland hospitality industry.

“It’s still going to be something very significant, a great community celebration, national celebration, but it certainly does add lots of layers of complication,” he said.

Gilbert said the NFL is also expected to use what it learns from the upcoming Super Bowl to help shape plans for the Draft as it approaches.

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