Updated, 1:30 p.m.
This may be the first time the NFL Draft takes place in Philadelphia, but longtime Spring Garden resident James Pavlock knows what to expect. A commute that usually takes minutes could take an hour. Visitors will be all over, maybe trying to park on his sidewalk. And the noise.
“I could’ve moved out of the city 10 years ago. I like living here and I like these events,” said Pavlock, who spoke by phone while stuck in traffic near the Art Museum Wednesday night. “But it’s very frustrating.”
He knows this because to some extent the NFL Draft will be like any other weekend in Spring Garden and Fairmount. Starting in the spring and continuing into the fall, these neighborhoods are inundated like no other part of Philadelphia, from 5K races to mega events like the NFL Draft and Made In America.
A city spokesperson, recognizing the volume of events, told Billy Penn that officials will host a “comprehensive conversation” with neighborhood and Parkway institutional leaders about the topic this fall. From now on, organizations hosting major events on the Parkway will be required to use outreach companies to talk to and find solutions for neighborhood businesses and residents.
“We do recognize,” said Lauren Hitt, communications director for the Mayor’s Office, “that the Parkway plays host to many events, and that these events sometimes pose an inconvenience to residents.”
Take the past month, for instance. The NFL Draft will shut down several roads and restrict parking spots, but it’s not the only major event around the Art Museum. In late March, the LOVE Run Half-Marathon featured a course along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that ended at the Art Museum. The next weekend, on April 1, the Hot Chocolate 5K/15K had a course that did the same. The Donor Dash 5K/10K began at the Art Museum the very next day.
It goes on like this throughout the spring and summer. In May, the Susan Komen Race for the Cure will bring several thousand people into the Art Museum area. Then comes the Fourth of July and Wawa’s Welcome America Festival. September brings Jay-Z’s last Made In America concert and about two weeks later, the Rock and Roll Half Marathon. In November, there’s the Rocky Balboa Run and the Philadelphia Marathon. Sprinkled in will be smaller races and similar events that use Kelly Drive or the Parkway.
The Parks and Recreation Department estimates about 25 events take place on the Parkway each year. Most of them cause few if any road closures, the city said. Events either fully or partially close down Kelly Drive more than 30 times from March through November, too. Several more close down the loop around the Art Museum.
These events, far smaller than the NFL Draft, can still cause complications. Pavlock, a U.S. attorney who used to work in the Philly DA’s office, relayed a story he shared Monday in a letter to Mayor Jim Kenney and Council President Darrell Clarke from Mother’s Day a few years ago, when the Race for the Cure was happening. He said street closures forced him to drive from 22nd Street to Fourth Street just to get to the other side of the Parkway to pick up his mother from an assisted living complex. He then had to abandon his car near 22nd and Chestnut, walk to his mother’s apartment and then assist her in getting to church. The process took about two hours.
“There seems to be absolutely no concern,” Pavlock wrote, “on the part of city officials to consider the significant inconvenience and diminished quality of life for for Fairmount and Spring Garden residents who are forced to deal with these events every weekend from March to the end of November.”
He received a letter in response, signed by Kenney, noting the planned meeting in the fall to discuss the future of events on the Parkway. Kenney’s letter also read, “We know for some residents their frustration about the Draft is part of a larger concern about what is seen as an increasing number of Parkway events.”
In early preparation for the Draft, dozens of parking spots have been closed off in the 2400 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the Philadelphian. June Idzal, board president for the condo building, said for the first few days of the closures almost no work was being done in the area. She said representatives from the area warned city leaders about the problems that could be caused, especially around holidays like Passover and Easter, but got “lip service” and little else.
“This is the best place to live in the city,” Idzal said. “It’s vibrant. You’ve got the park, you’ve got the Art Museum, but there has to be a balance. I would love for the city officials to live here for the entire summer and see how they would deal with all these events.”
A question from Pavlock and Idzal is, why not anywhere else? Why do so many events take place around the Art Museum and therefore bother residents of Spring Garden, Logan Square and Fairmount?
It’s not the only place that can accommodate huge crowds. The Pope gave a speech at Independence Mall during his visit, and Hillary Clinton spoke there, too, addressing 30,000 people the night before the 2016 election. The stadium complex routinely hosts festivals and street fairs.
For the NFL, the Art Museum may have been the only option. In a Newsworks article from earlier this week, Kenney said the NFL wouldn’t consider any other spaces. But in September said he thought other venues were “minorly considered.”
“We offered alternatives,” Hitt told Billy Penn, “but they were only really interested in the Art Museum steps.”
Kamran Mumtaz, spokesperson for the NFL, said other potential options were identified but the league considered the Art Museum and Benjamin Franklin Parkway the best location.
Athletic events, like the numerous races, tend to happen by the Art Museum for a variety of reasons. Race directors can get away with closing down fewer roads — and therefore saving money — because MLK Drive is always closed on weekends and Kelly Drive and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway are wide. There’s also the draw of the Rocky Steps and the Museum for photo opportunities.
“If someone is coming in from out of town or is new to Philly it’s a spot on their list anyway to go to,” said Carolyn Redmond, a director for Run The Day race management. “The fact they can kill two birds with one stone and they can take the photos in their workout gear already. That’s definitely a draw for people.”
Hitt said “event saturation” is considered when the city evaluates permits and proposals for events and that the NFL Draft’s impact would be considered for future events for the Art Museum area this year and in coming years. She said previous outreach efforts for Made In America had led to fewer complaints from residents, noting the city received only eight complaints last year.
“The reality is that the Parkway is a beautiful public space,” she said, “and, as a result, it will and should continue to be a place where Philadelphians from all across the City can gather for celebrations and national events.”
Plenty of residents around the Art Museum think like Pavlock. In an informal poll of nearly 500 respondents on Fairmount’s Nextdoor page, about 50 percent shared his view, saying they liked events on the Parkway but acknowledged the downsides. Another 19 percent said they loved events. Thirty percent said they didn’t like events.
Cliff Hotchkiss, a retiree, moved to the Art Museum area last fall. He wanted to live in the area in large part because he knew there would be several big events.
“You just plan a little bit for it,” he said. “And that doesn’t seem to be a huge inconvenience for me for all we get in the area.”
Leaders of the Spring Garden and Fairmount civic associations did not respond to interview requests. Hitt said neighborhood organizations throughout the city are not formally briefed on prospective events but said their concerns are taken into account when evaluating event permits.
Pavlock said he understands the benefits of the events, recognizing his neighborhood seemed to get more of them about the same time Philadelphia started being recognized more often as a growing, thriving city. The problem is all the events added together — in just one area of Philly.
He has a request for city leadership: “Spread the wealth.”