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Canton is Angling to Host NFL Draft at Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village

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04/24/2017

This summer, the Pro Football Hall of Fame expects to open a world-class sports and entertainment venue that will draw high-profile performers and athletic events year-round.

The construction at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium and at the nearby youth fields are the most visible aspects of Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village — an idea that largely remains conceptual two years after its public unveiling.

The development is the major selling point in the bid to bring national events to the birthplace of the NFL: The Hall, in partnership with the city, has applied to host all or part of the NFL Draft in 2019 or 2020, to coincide with the league’s 100th season and its centennial year. The Hall’s President, David Baker, also has said Canton and the Village will play a central role in the NFL’s celebration of its Sept. 17, 2020, centennial.


Most of the nine-part Village project now is scheduled to finish in the summer of 2019 or later, after the 2019 NFL Draft is over.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on several occasions has said Canton has a good shot at getting the draft, but his assurances seem to hinge on the completion of the Village: “The reality is with better facilities, the obvious answer to that one is yes,” he told The Canton Repository in 2014, when plans for the Village first took shape.

Baker said there’s no guarantee Canton will host a portion or all of an upcoming draft, but the work underway on the Village “helps a great deal.”

“Nobody’s going to give it to us just because it’s the 100th anniversary,” Baker said. “We’ve got to fight for it and we’ve got to compete.”

Building a Village

In May 2015, the Hall announced detailed plans for an eight-part, $476 million Village, a partnership between the Hall and master developer Industrial Realty Group. The timeline showed everything would be open three years later, by May 2018.

Those projections quickly were pushed back as the project evolved. The Village now is a nine-component development with a price tag of $600 million. Documents filed with the city of Canton, and obtained by The Canton Repository through a public records request, indicate most elements will finish sometime in 2019, with others — including the virtual reality entertainment facility — taking until 2020.

The project has seen successes in its first two years: New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson donated $11 million, with $10 million earmarked for the stadium that now has his name. The north stands and permanent stage at the stadium opened last year. Wisconsin’s largest public company Johnson Controls purchased the naming rights to the Village in an 18-year deal valued at more than $100 million. The open youth fields have drawn thousands of people to the Hall’s campus. The Hall debuted its holographic theater show, which is part of the upgrades that were planned for the museum.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the luxury on-site hotel is scheduled for Tuesday.

Construction on the Hall’s campus operates on two 10-hour shifts, with about 250 workers on site each day, said Steve Strawbridge, the Hall’s chief administrative officer. Across the country, hundreds of people are working to develop the Village behind the scenes. Other groundbreakings expected this year are the Center for Excellence in late summer and the sports performance center and the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village Experience toward the end of 2017.

Five youth fields will be open by next month, and the stadium — with the exception of the east end zone and west end zone scoreboard — will be ready for this year’s enshrinement.

Strawbridge said timelines could change but the stadium and youth fields are scheduled to finish in 2018. The next components expected after that are the hotel, Center for Excellence office building and the Hall of Fame Way retail area — all in the summer of 2019.

Getting the draft

This week, an estimated 200,000 people will flock to Philadelphia to watch the NFL Draft and visit the nearby fan festival. The main event will be held in an open-air theater built on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art — the same ones featured in the movie “Rocky.” The Benjamin Franklin Parkway will be closed for the free NFL Draft Experience, which will have games and exhibits.

The draft is headed to Philadelphia after spending two years in Chicago and 50 years before that in New York. The location for 2018 has not been announced, though several reports indicate Dallas, with its new $1.5 billion mixed-use development headquarters and practice facility, is the front-runner.

To host an NFL Draft, a city needs venues that can accommodate groups of hundreds, high-density Wi-Fi and fast internet connection, and several million dollars to promote the event. The Chicago Tribune newspaper in 2015 got a copy of the five-page letter sent to Chicago’s tourism arm when the city was in the running to host. It shows the NFL wanted confirmation the league would have access to all buildings, streets and safety forces needed at no cost to the NFL, the buildings had the necessary technological capabilities, and the city was prepared to make a promotional commitment that had a minimum value of $4 million.

If Canton does get the NFL Draft, it won’t necessarily be on the hook for the full event or full cost. Baker, with the Hall, said the Hall’s draft application indicated Canton would be willing to work with any NFL team and the goal is to hold “at least some portion of the Draft here in Canton in either 2019 or 2020.”

NFL officials for years have been quoted as saying the league is considering moving the three days of the draft to different locations. Baker thinks the cities probably would be located in the same region and, initially, the first two days of the draft would be held in one city and the third day would be held in another.

A spokeswoman for Destination Cleveland — the city of Cleveland’s tourism bureau — wrote in an email to the Repository the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and the Cleveland Browns were aware of the possibility of Canton and Cleveland co-hosting a future NFL Draft but no application had been submitted yet.

Beyond the NFL Draft, Hall officials also are hopeful Canton will land the NFL’s centennial celebration, though there aren’t formal plans for what that event will look like. Baker said while the draft happens every year, the centennial is a special opportunity to honor the game of football and the values it teaches.

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