775,000 people attended the 2024 NFL Draft, and Detroit not only made it work, but it shined.

To be honest, I haven't seen Detroiters near and far as proud of their city as they are today in a long time (and the first big story I worked locally was the Hudson's demolition).

I went to a press event this morning where officials shared some of these highlights:

  • Just two arrests and two juvenile detainments in the NFL Draft footprint. A stunningly low number for the number of people who attended.
  • The numbers are still rolling in, but Claude Molinari from Visit Detroit said that this could be the biggest hotel week in Southeast Michigan's history as far as revenue — and they've been tracking for more 120 years.
  • Initial economic impact projections will need to be revised higher.
  • Detroit 75 Kitchen served up 15,000 meals across the three days; another report shows that Lafayette Coney Island plated 10,000 coney dogs over the three days - that's far above their normal of 1,500.
  • Although the immediate impact is important, Mayor Duggan hopes that in three to four years we'll see an echo effect of new people wanting to live and invest in the city.

That reflects something I heard from Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist over the weekend, that part of the point of all this is to show people Detroit, the region and Michigan as people don't move to or invest in places they haven't been.

Being down there all three days, the streets of Detroit were alive in a way few have really seen with their own eyes. And if there's something I've learned - people have to see it to believe it.

Broadway in Downtown Detroit out front of the Siren Hotel, just outside the draft zone perimeter.

If being next to the stage or being in Hart Plaza didn't matter to you, there was plenty of room to operate outside the fence line. Busy, yes. But if you've ever traveled, it looked like a normal day in a proper downtown.

If anything, the NFL Draft showed just how many people downtown Detroit can handle at once.

Something that we should have known looking at Detroit's history, but I think needed a reminder of because we're used to streets that — let's be polite — aren't usually full.

And sure, we can look at the old pictures of 1950s Detroit that were flooded with people. But that's not relatable to 2024.

Although we have some buildings that remain, that Detroit of our grandparents and great-grandparents generation is gone.

If we're being honest, that 1910s to 1950s Detroit was a place where if you were brown, there were lots of areas that you weren't kept around.

The Detroit of today did a better job at celebrating what it is, and everyone was welcome.

Screenshot from the City of Detroit's Instagram account, highlighting fans with Cartiers.

Thinking bigger

Molinari has said to look for the NBA and NHL All-Star games in the future. The NCAA Final Four is 1,068 days away.

This is great. But I want to think bigger than one-time events. Let's think about adding tens of thousands of permanent residents.

We put so much effort, money, and digital ink into stadiums. What if we also added the capacity of Ford Field to the number of people living in the city every day? Shopping, spending, and supporting?

One of the events I attended was at Batch Brewing Company, put together by "Let's Grow Michigan."

Not only was it great to run into a couple of listeners, my trip there kinda tied things together for me.

Empty lot and towers near Corktown in Detroit.

I walked by a giant parking lot next to one of the city's long-standing neighborhoods, and a pair of towers that have been standing vacant for many years.

And all I could think was, "this is where people should live, too."

I think the same thing about the Penobscot Building (the pointy one with a tower on the top in the back of that photo above). A building both me and my mother worked in over the years.

It's one that someone with vision and resources should buy and turn into residential.

These are just a couple of many examples I see around town. No city or state government can pull that off alone — there needs to be real resources in the form of investment. Government's job is to make the underlying conditions to encourage success for everyone involved.

I say we should aim high, and if we come up a little short — far better than if we shoot low and miss completely.

There are a variety of reasons for Detroit's population decline (and many different ideas to fix the system) that we don't have time to get into here.

But what I hope the NFL Draft helped do is show us that we can do this kind of thing again. That Detroit is the beating heart of the region, and with a healthy heart, the rest of the body does better.

If there's something I've learned about people, it's that when there's the will, there's the way. And if you think you can, or think you can't — you're right.

I hope Mayor Duggan is right, and three or four years from now we're looking back that this was a turning point.

And if that is indeed true — we celebrate today. But the work has only begun.

Remember that you are somebody,


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