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Downtown Cleveland Hotels Hope NFL Draft Kicks Off Tourists’ Return

Guest rooms at the Kimpton Schofield Hotel, at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, are welcoming tourists back to Downton Cleveland for the NFL Draft. [Kimpton Schofield Hotel]
Guest rooms at the Kimpton Schofield Hotel, at East 9th Street and Euclid Avenue, overlook Downton Cleveland's historic architecture

Downtown hotels are expecting a huge lift from the NFL Draft in Cleveland this weekend, with occupancy rates expected between 80 and 90 percent and some venues sold out for the first time in more than a year.

During the pandemic year of 2020, Cleveland hotels averaged around 25 percent occupancy according to Emily Lauer, senior director of public relations for Destination Cleveland.

"Occupancy's usually in the 60 percent range for Cleveland and nationally it's just a few points above that," Lauer said. "I would say it's likely that hotels, particularly downtown hotels, haven't seen occupancy between 80 and 90 percent since very likely the 2019 Major League Baseball All-Star game that Cleveland hosted."

Lauer calls the last 13 months "devastation" to the hospitality industry, but the draft offers hope.

"It's a privilege [to host)],” Lauer said. "It is an opportunity for our restaurants, bars, hotels, to welcome people back downtown, both visitors as well as residents, and to set the stage for what's hopefully to come for the rest of 2021. We see this as just the beginning. A renewal, a reboot, a kickstart, any of those are good descriptors for what this NFL Draft could be."

The Kimpton Schofield hotel on East 9th Street is in need of a renewal, though director of sales and marketing Jordan Nye said they've been slowly ramping up staff this year and have seen an increase in reservations.

"A lot of it's driven by the social market, weddings, staycations," Nye said "So, we have seen an uptick leading into the weekends which has allowed us to bring staff back and really positioned us well for a big event like this weekend."

Reservations appear to be a mix of those from NFL offices, fans of other teams and some locals, he said.

Nye didn't have specifics on the number of staff affected but the downturn in 2020 or how many have returned, but the Schofield was closed from late March to June 2020, and Nye estimated occupancy has been about half of normal levels since reopening.

The return of fans to Indians baseball, albeit at 30 percent capacity thus far, and the promise of this weekend's NFL Draft, has offered hope.

"You can just see more foot traffic," Nye said. "In terms of occupancy, we're looking like we're going to be fuller or very close to at capacity Thursday, Friday nights.

"It sets us on a stage, really a worldwide stage for people to see that we can host big events again and we can do them safely and put Cleveland in a great light," Nye said.

Lauer points out that only Tampa, with the Super Bowl in February, and the Indianapolis area, for the NCAA basketball tournament, have hosted major spectator events in the pandemic era so far and believes the draft will showcase Cleveland's resilience. 

Many NFL officials have already arrived in town for events leading up to Thursday's draft. The three-day event is expected to draw at least 50,000 people per day downtown, which may be short of attendance in pre-pandemic host cities like Nashville, but is still significant according to Lauer.

"Our businesses downtown and our hotels now will have a percent of something versus a percent of nothing," Lauer said. "That's a model that they've been working on the last 12 or 13 months."

Lauer said hotel owners are cautiously optimistic about a hospitality reboot, citing pent up demand for travel.

Fans should treat the draft and surrounding events as they would a Browns game day, in terms of restricted items and travel concerns. Only clear bags will be allowed. More information is on rocktheclockcle.com

And of course, health and safety is still a priority everywhere. Nye said returning hotel guests will notice changes.

"The dividers at the desk, we do offer a contactless check in up in the guest rooms," Nye said. "Typically we have a full mini bar. We've created a bodega at our front desk where those items are still available, in a way that we can offer them in a more safe manner." 

Glenn Forbes is supervising producer of newscasts at Ideastream Public Media.