NFL Draft making an impact on downtown Chicago businesses again

By Alex Valentine

Sonia Agueyo sees the difference the NFL Draft is making. The front desk agent at the Travelodge in downtown Chicago said room bookings for Thursday’s first day of the draft are more than double what the hotel would see on its busiest weeknight.

“We’ve had more than 120 arrivals, and we’re pretty much booked up the next two nights,” said Agueyo. “Normally, on the busiest weeknight, we’ll have about 60 rooms booked. Two nights ago, we had 12.

Business increased for hotels along Michigan Ave in the lead up to the NFL Draft this weekend (Alex Valentine/ Medill).
Business increased for hotels in downtown Chicago in the lead up to the NFL Draft this weekend (Alex Valentine/ Medill).

“We’re seeing a lot of the same people as last year, but we’re definitely seeing more, too.”

Employees at the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel and the Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue, directly across from Draft Town, agreed that business was much busier than usual this weekend — and even busier than during last year’s draft.

That should be good news for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who cited tourism revenue as one reason for lobbying to bring the draft to Chicago last year after 50 years in New York. A study by the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University said last year’s event had a direct impact of $44 million for the city, including hotel revenue, dining, sales tax revenue and temporary jobs.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Chicago the draft again this year, but last week reportedly said the event “very likely” will relocate in 2017.

Chicago wants to keep the draft here, if not next year, then some time in the future. Goodell told ESPN on Thursday night that no decision has been made for 2017, but didn’t go so far as to say the draft probably would move.

It seemed to be good for business Thursday night, as the first round began shortly after 7 p.m. Temperatures in the low 40s made coffee shops popular. The Starbucks in the Renaissance Blackstone Chicago Hotel lobby and the one on Michigan Avenue were packed for most of the evening.
The Dunkin’ Donuts on Harrison Street was quiet during the late afternoon, but employee Oscar Alverado said he expected business to pick up once Draft Town attendees had weathered the cold for several hours.

Ania Swiderska, co-owner of BeeZzee, a restaurant and juice bar across from Roosevelt University, said Lollapalooza brings more customers than the draft, but not many more.

“We’re a little slow right now, but we’ll get busier later tonight when people start heading back to their hotels,” Swiderska said. “We were caught a little off-guard last year, but now we know what to expect.”

Photo at top: Fans gather at the Hyatt on Michigan Avenue (Alex Valentine/ Medill)