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SPORTS

NFL Draft Has Been on Tour for a Decade and the Next Stop is Detroit, Giving It a Shot in Spotlight

DETROIT (AP) — The NFL draft has taken the show on the road for a decade, giving cities around the country a chance to be in the spotlight.

Detroit is on the clock.

The Motor City, which was once one of the nation’s largest and most powerful cities, has bounced back from filing for bankruptcy in 2013.

Fans driving and flying into town from the league’s other 31 cities will see signs of progress from the symbolic to the significant.

DETROIT is spelled out, each letter standing 10 feet off an embankment alongside a freeway between the airport and downtown, in an art installation that made its debut earlier this month.

A few miles away, the long-abandoned Michigan Central Station has undergone a renovation funded by Ford Motor Co. to transform the 18-story, 113-year-old train depot from an eyesore into a gem.

In the heart of downtown, where the NFL draft will begin Thursday night, a 685-foot-high tower represents the largest construction project in the city in more than a half-century as it rises from the site of the former Hudson’s department store.

With more than 50 million viewers and an expected 400,000 visitors over the three-day event, there will be a chance to change the conversation about the city.

Lions President Rod Wood pitched the city as a draft destination in 2016 and teamed up with the Detroit Sports Commission a year later to submit the formal bid to land the NFL’s annual event that gives fans from each team a jolt of hope.

The Lions and the local sports commission also partnered with Visit Detroit, Dan Gilbert’s real-estate company, Bedrock, and the Detroit Police Department to make the most of the opportunity.

“The draft here in Detroit is going to make a big step for us in making that old image go away and people having the new image of the city,” Gilbert told The Associated Press. “We’re going to be able to showcase Detroit like never before.”

That’s part of the NFL’s plan, and it has led to 20-plus cities vying for a future draft. Green Bay will host next year’s draft.

After the league had its last draft in New York a decade ago, it envisioned giving cities — particularly those in colder climates that may not host a future Super Bowl — a chance to have a signature event that would have a lot of benefits, including an economic impact.

Chicago was the first tour stop in 2015 and it generated $81 million for the community. Kansas City had it last year, sparking $164 million in economic impact.

“Another opportunity for our franchise and our city and just for the world to kind of migrate to downtown Detroit,” said Lions general manager Brad Holmes, who has turned around a franchise that is coming off its best season since winning the 1957 NFL title. “I expect it to be pretty packed. I’m excited for all the businesses.”

Detroit’s draft is expected to bring in at least $160 million, giving small businesses a boost from fans flocking in and around Campus Martius Park.

One longtime business is looking forward to more than just an increase in foot traffic.

Lauren Stovall, the business lead at Hot Sam’s, and two others representing the 103-year-old men’s clothing store and tailor shop will be onstage during the draft’s final day Saturday.

“There’s a perception of Detroit that comes from people who actually have not been here,” Stovall said. “What’s so great is when people actually come to Detroit, they are blown away, because Detroit is not what they might have thought.”

There are new hotels, high-end and trendy restaurants and bars along with a skyscraper nearing completion. Challenges continue to exist in some neighborhoods as the city continues to demolish abandoned houses, including more than 25,000 over the past 10 years. Crime has been trending down and homicides are the lowest since 1966.

“We’re not going to lose our balance patting ourselves on the back,” Detroit Police Chief James White said.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes officers from Detroit, county, state and federal agencies will patrol the greater downtown area. White said all the city’s police officers will work shifts during the draft, some downtown, others in neighborhoods.

Bomb-sniffing dogs and other K-9 teams will be flown into Detroit by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which also has pledged to have its tactical team on standby. Intelligence agents are monitoring social media for any threats.

Mayor Mike Duggan devoted some time during his annual State of the City address Wednesday to talk about the importance of the draft turning a lot of eyes on Detroit. Visitors for the draft are “going to see a very different city,” the mayor promised.

“We have a chance to reintroduce Detroit to America,” Duggan said.

___
By LARRY LAGE AP Sports Writer

Associated Press writers Corey Williams and Mike Householder contributed to this report.

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