Apr 25, 2024 - News

Michigan Central, other Detroit landmarks considered for NFL Draft

Michigan Central

Michigan Central Station. Photo: Annalise Frank/Axios

Before downtown was picked as the epicenter for the NFL Draft, city landmarks including Michigan Central Station, Belle Isle and the riverfront were under consideration.

Inside the room: Commissioner Roger Goodell, billionaire businessman Dan Gilbert and others were talking about Detroit's draft location going back to 2021, Mark Hollis, Rock Ventures' vice president of business development and former Michigan State athletic director, tells Axios.

What they're saying: "A small group of us had the NFL come in and look at four different sites — look at the train station, look at Belle Isle, look at the riverfront and we looked downtown," said Hollis, who was present for calls and meetings involving Goodell, Gilbert and other executives from Gilbert's family of companies.

  • "The idea was, let's be uniquely different. It's going to be a smaller footprint, but we can use the rest of the city to have a celebratory event around the draft."

Between the lines: With the draft downtown, visitors and TV viewers can soak in the city's skyscrapers, sports venues and attractions along historic Woodward Avenue, Hollis says.

  • Michigan Central would have been somewhat similar to last year's draft in Kansas City, which was centered at a historic train station, he added.
  • Michigan Central spokesperson Dan Austin confirmed the train depot was considered. "We're thrilled the NFL Draft is being hosted in Detroit, but the timing didn't work out for us," Austin said in an email.
  • Neither the NFL nor the mayor's office returned messages seeking comment about other city sites considered for the draft.

Context: When considering the right location for the NFL Draft, Hollis tapped into his mindset at MSU, where he planned innovative events — like the 2011 basketball game on an aircraft carrier — to help the school stand out among U of M, Notre Dame and other regional powers.

  • "How do you become something that captures the attention, the imagination and the innovation of others?" he says.

State of play: Hollis joined Rock Ventures after leaving MSU in 2018.

The bottom line: "I remember beating the drum for the downtown core starting in 2018 all the way through 2023 when the final decision was made," Hollis says.

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