Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > 2024 NFL Draft Is Done: Here Are All the Transformative Things It Left Behind in Detroit

2024 NFL Draft Is Done: Here Are All the Transformative Things It Left Behind in Detroit

April 29, 2024

Photo credit: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press
April 29, 2024
Kylie Martin

The NFL draft in Detroit was a long time in the making, but it also brought changes to the city that will last for years.

The City of Detroit spent years planning to spiffy up the city in time for the draft, hoping to appeal to the massive visiting crowds and prove to the rest of the world that Detroit is capable of hosting events of this size. But hidden in the city’s hustle and bustle, and coupled with the NFL’s extravagant efforts, the bountiful beautification projects expedited numerous repairs and improvements that had sat on ever-growing lists for who-knows-how-long.

“It’s been refreshing to see how the public sector, the philanthropic community, the corporate community has come together to really make the most of this opportunity for Detroit. That’s in some of these improvements and beautifications and investments, but it’s also in speaking with one voice and telling a story that needs to be told,” said Eric Larson, Chief Executive Officer of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.

So, as fun as that shiny new “Detroit” sign on I-94 might be, here’s what the NFL draft brought to Detroit that will serve a real purpose in Detroiters’ lives for years to come.

Urban Infrastructure Projects

As described by Larson, many of the urban infrastructure projects had been on the city’s to-do list for years.

“It’s a little bit like Winston Churchill: ‘Never waste a good crisis.’ While this isn’t a crisis, this is an opportunity to leverage a lot of momentum, a lot of excitement, and a lot of visibility to get some of the projects that needed to be done to get done in a more efficient timeline,” said Larson. “We were going to do it but having the incentive of getting it done before the draft helped move it along.”

The Downtown Development Authority allocated $5.7 million on five primary infrastructure projects leading up to the draft:

  • Replacing brick pavers on Woodward Avenue sidewalks stretching between Park Avenue and State Street.
  • Beautifying surface parking lots with decorative fencing, bollards, murals, landscaping, plantings and other aesthetic improvements.
  • Redesigning the Washington Boulevard median with new paving, path lighting, landscaping and more.
  • Improving downtown lighting, with approximately 1,000 light pole repairs and replacements, and new place-based lighting in designated downtown areas.
  • Adding static wayfinding signage and symbols to downtown to help pedestrians and drivers find their way through downtown.

In a separate project, the City of Detroit and the Downtown Detroit Partnership came together to post lights on many of the Detroit People Mover support columns, helping to light up downtown with colorful LEDS.

“(The Detroit People Mover lighting) obviously has a lasting impact, both in terms of safety and security, and just ambient light as you navigate the downtown, but also, it’s a fun way to highlight key moments through the year,” said Larson. “During the draft, it’ll be a great way to show some Lions pride through blue and silver lighting on the columns.”

The Downtown Detroit Partnership also worked to expand and enhance free public Wi-Fi across public spaces, like Grand Circus Park, Capitol Park, Beacon Park, Paradise Valley, Campus Martius, and Cadillac Square, so that visitors could have easier access to the internet. Separately, Verizon and AT&T installed additional devices to increase cell coverage and bandwidth for better cell reception throughout Detroit − some of which is temporary and some of which is here to stay.

The DDP, in partnership with the city, also decided to use the NFL draft to test out a pilot program for unified storefront branding and signage: covering the windows of vacant storefronts with art deco-styled motifs, including leasing information, to create a more unified look as people move through downtown.

Additionally, the partnership received a RAP grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corportation to update and improve four public spaces, most visibly revitalizing Paradise Valley Park with infrastructure repairs and replacements and cleaning up overgrown vegetation.

The partners worked on numerous other maintenance and revitalization projects, pilot programs, and investments − repainting 600 flagpoles across downtown, planting hundreds of trees and shrubs around Detroit freeways, implementing new transportation routes to manage the huge influx of people into the city − most of which will remain long after the draft packs up and clears out of Detroit.

Community Initiatives

The NFL had a lot more to bring to Detroit than just the NFL Draft Experience.

While the city worked on their dozens and dozens of beautification projects, the NFL came with donations for Detroiters that might need them most:

  • The NFL partnered with Lowe’s, the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Michigan Volunteers of America to provide renovations to the VOAMI that will help enhance the resources it provides to vulnerable populations, like veterans, senior citizens, struggling families and other Michigan residents.
  • The NFL and S.H.I.E.L.D. 1 presented Green Boots Veteran Community Horticulture Gardens and Marketplace with a GroShed, equipment that uses hydroponics gardening to grow nutritious, non-toxic, affordable whole foods, even during the winter. Green Boots is a local community garden that provides fresh produce for the surrounding area as well as opportunities for veterans to address their mental health through gardening.
  • After hosting an event on Thursday to feed 300 families and give them a taste of the NFL Draft Experience, the NFL and Little Caesars teamed up to donate $50,000 to COTS Detroit, an organization that helps individuals and families struggling with homelessness to receive housing assistance and other services.
  • Partnered with the American Cancer Society, the NFL awarded a grant for an undisclosed amount to Henry Ford Hospital to create stronger connections between community health centers and NFL team-affiliated hospitals to ensure patients complete recommended screening, follow-up care and treatment for improved outcomes.
  • The NFL Foundation is partnering with Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin and his organization, Chasing M’s Foundation, to donate 60 AEDs, worth more than $120,000, to 50 high schools around the state, in light of Michigan’s new bills signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Day 3 of the draft that guarantee new CPR and AED requirements to protect student athletes who may go into cardiac arrest.

Post-draft, the NFL is working to donate construction materials used throughout the draft space, like plywood, plastic fencing, artificial turf and more, to at least 14 local organizations to recycle the materials for their own community purposes.

Environmental Initiatives

Maintaining its sustainability mission, the NFL arrived in Detroit with green-thumbed gifts as well:

  • The NFL and Verizon teamed up with Detroit Tree Equity Partnership to plant 20 trees in Patton Park, the 84-acre public park along the Southwest Detroit Greenway path.
  • The NFL partnered with MSU-Detroit Partnership for Food, Learning and Innovation and Keep Growing Detroit to plant fruit and nut-bearing trees, ornamental trees and vegetable plants at the MSU-DPFLI urban agriculture facility on the west side of Detroit.
  • Throughout the rest of the spring, the NFL and Verizon, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, will be working on a reforestation project to plant 5,180 trees − 20 for each player selected in the draft − in state and national forest lands across Michigan.