CLEVELAND, Ohio — One of the more exciting elements of the 2021 NFL Draft landing in Cleveland is one of the simplest.
“It is so much fun to wake up and watch ‘Good Morning Football’ (on NFL Network) and hear them nonstop talking about Cleveland,” Browns owner Dee Haslam said on a Zoom call with local media on Tuesday.
Cleveland has already started taking center stage in the NFL world, days before the giant stage constructed with Lake Erie in the background becomes the place where the football world turns its attention beginning with Thursday night’s first round.
“I could not talk about the draft without thanking Mayor Frank Jackson for just the tremendous job the city has done helping us get the draft,” Dee Haslam said, “and also (Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Destination Cleveland President & CEO) David Gilbert and Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission for all of the hard work they have done for this. It is just tons of volunteers and lots of people who have worked tirelessly to pull off this event. It is absolutely stunning.”
The draft in Cleveland represents one of the first truly marquee events taking place as the United States works to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and find a sense of normalcy. Those closest to the stage all weekend will be fully vaccinated and will feature frontline workers, who Jimmy Haslam thanked in his opening remarks on Tuesday. Masks and distancing will be required, as well, at events around the draft, including the NFL Draft Experience, a free fanfest in and around FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I do think it is going to give people some excitement to get out,” Dee Haslam said. “There are a lot of people I know who are planning on tailgating, coming downtown and experiencing the draft like they would normally experience a game.”
Beyond the draft, the Haslams see this as an opportunity to showcase the city and help spur development of an area where development has been slow-going at best.
“Our hope is that it opens up Cleveland, not just for the draft but for people see what a great place it is for all kinds of events,” Dee Haslam said. “We think it just showcases Cleveland terrifically.”
As for lakefront development, the draft stage spurred the removal of warehouses in the North Coast Harbor Parking lot, opening up views of the lake. On the flip side, it also serves as a reminder of the disconnect that exists between downtown and the lakefront.
The Browns, of course, have a vested interest in a particularly large piece of property on said lakefront.
“In a lot of ways having a stadium on the lake is great,” Jimmy Haslam said. “On the other hand, ingress, egress and parking are less than ideal. What we hope over a period of time — there are preliminary plans underway — is to connect downtown to the lakefront in a much better, more convenient way, both particularly for pedestrians but also for cars. We hope this will further the opening up to the lakefront.”
He said he would leave the development to others, but a better connection would help serve not only the Browns but others on the lakefront as well.
“It is beautiful and somewhat blocked off,” Dee Haslam said. “This is going to be a showcase of Lake Erie, and having these events there is going to provide some opportunity for other people.”
Jimmy Haslam deflected credit for the draft away from the Haslam Sports Group, instead crediting the city and the NFL for pulling this together. For Dee and Jimmy Haslam, they are, to some degree, enjoying the experience in much the same way as everyone else.
“Seeing all of these great shots of Cleveland (on TV), whether they are from the river, from the lake or downtown,” Jimmy Haslam said, “is great for this area.”
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