As I inch my car around the Art Museum circle, through a maze of orange cones and forklifts, I try to remember why this is happening. Why, for the love of God, the NFL asked for — and got — permission to turn our city’s fine arts corridor into an Erector set.
I seem to recall something about the NFL wanting to capture the “symbolism of the ‘Rocky’ steps” for their nationally televised Draft. Really? You mean the steps they have totally obscured with a humongous stage? If only I could’ve been a fly (or raptor) on the wall when the planning meeting was held in City Hall.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: I want the most visually dynamic, grab-’em-by-the-balls, site available. Whaddya got?
Mayor Kenney: Independence National Park.
Kenney [beaming]: Independence Hall at one end. The National Constitution Center at the other. In between? (wait for it) The Liberty Bell!
Goodell [yawning]: I’m not running for president. I’m promoting human meat lockers with billion-dollar contracts. I need something sexy.
Kenney: How about right here on Broad Street? I’ll throw in the Mummers.
Goodell: No way. I want that place from the movie. You know? The one with Stallone running up and down the steps. Whatsitcalled?
Kenney [Incredulous]: The Philadelphia Museum of Art? You want to do the NFL Draft on the Art Museum steps? That will be a logistical nightmare. The construction alone will tie up traffic for weeks. No can do.
Goodell: Why am I wasting my time here? I can get Madison Square Garden. [Moves toward the door.]
Kenney: Wait. Roger. Wait. Let me crunch those numbers again and see what I can do.
VisitPhilly claims that “lives are changed and the future unfolds” on April 27-29 when the Parkway will be transformed into a “three-day Football Festival” over an area equal to “25 football fields.” If Alfred Barnes wasn’t already turning in his grave about his Impressionist collection moving from their former home in Merion to the Parkway, this event is sure to give him another jolt. People come from around the world to gaze in reverence at the works of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet, and Renoir. And we’re creating an insurmountable obstacle course so that football fans can buy the same Eagles shirts, beer, and cheesesteaks available at Lincoln Financial Field?
Call me a snob, but I think Philly is selling itself to the highest bidder for all the wrong reasons. Sure, the Parkway will draw huge crowds and make a nice backdrop for the TV cameras when — and if — they take the lens off the hot picks. But of the millions of viewers who watch the show from the comfort of their Barcaloungers, how many are going to look at the skyline of Philly and think, “Hey, Marge, we should go there sometime and have us a cheesesteak.”
I wouldn’t bet on it. But, City Hall would. They are banking, literally, on hotel rooms, restaurant seats, and bar stools being occupied during the Draft. The thing is, those same dollars would flow in if the event was held at Lincoln Financial Field, Mummers and all. Without creating a multi-week traffic tsunami for commuters, people who live along the Parkway or those poor souls who travel from, say Japan or Germany, to visit Picasso’s “Three Musicians” and, instead, will have to contend with thousands of football fanatics.
Of course, the city is hoping that sports fans will also visit the museums along the Parkway. But, let’s be real. They will only enter the Barnes or Rodin Museum to pee. Not to marvel at the art. Same goes for the Franklin Institute. And don’t go getting any ideas about the “welcoming” spirit of the NFL Draft. Families with picnic baskets, bottles of soda, and blankets will not be allowed. No food or drink will be permitted on the entire length of the Parkway unless sold by a vendor. (There go all those young entrepreneurs selling bottled water!)
In 2014, the NFL made $7.24 billion in revenue for its 32 teams. That’s enough to fund 10 missions to Pluto. Or more pragmatically, to launch a major shift in early childhood education. Sad to think that the reality show of picking the next football millionaires is over-shining the true treasures of our city.