CHICAGO (WLS) --Draft Town kicks off Thursday and crews are busy making sure everything is ready to go. That includes a local print shop staffed entirely by veterans making all the t-shirts that will be sold at the festival.
The future stars are coaching the hopeful stars of the more distant future as these kids get a chance to learn some football drills from the likely top picks on hand for the draft. It is a pipeline the NFL hopes will keep the sport's popularity strong, starting with young kids.
Part of the reason the league has turned the draft into a big event is to market the league's brand to an even bigger audience, with hands-on activities for kids. City leaders say it's been great for the city and the league says Chicago makes a great host.
"It's a great way to show off the city to the entire country," said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"We have a lot of interest from other cities and, again, it's based off the success that happened here in Chicago," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
It's also a great opportunity for the NFL to sell more merchandise. The NFL Shop is well-stocked and ready for business when the doors open Thursday. Most of the T-shirts here had to be shipped only a few miles from the Northwest Side. Rag of Honor printed thousands of these shirts. It's a nice opportunity for the growing company. All of their employees are military veterans, many of whom were homeless until the company hired them.
"I never thought in a million years that I'd be doing anything that had to do with the NFL or how this big of an impact on the Chicago area. I've never thought about it, and now that I'm doing it, it's very rewarding," said Dion West, Rags of Honor.
While it's unclear if the NFL Draft will return to Chicago next year, Emanuel said the success of the event has already ensured that the NHL Draft will be held here later this year.
STREET CLOSURES, EXTRA CTA SERVICE IN PLACE
Street closures are already in place and the CTA is adding extra service for the returning NFL Draft Town Fan Festival, which takes place downtown Thursday through Saturday.
Residents near Grant Park should expect traffic delays, according to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications.
Congress, from Michigan to Columbus, including sidewalks and the Columbus Circle, will remain closed until Monday, according to the OEMC. Columbus, from Jackson to Balbo, also remains closed until Monday. Westbound Balbo, from Columbus to Lake Shore Drive, will remain closed to traffic until Friday, May 6.
Michigan, from Jackson to Balbo, will close between 3-8 p.m. Thursday and again between 3-8 p.m. on Friday to accommodate the red carpet introduction featuring NFL legends and top college prospects.
Between May 3-6, eastbound Balbo will be closed for event clean-up, according to OEMC.
The CTA is adding extra service for fans to make their way to Draft Town, but is also warning of planned construction.
Longer trains will run along the Blue, Red, Brown and Orange lines on Thursday and Friday, according to the transit agency. On Saturday, longer trains will run on the Red, Brown and Orange lines between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Red Line trains will also run more frequently between 11 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Twelve downtown bus routes will be temporarily rerouted due to Draft Town, including the No. 1 Bronzeville/Union Station; No. 3 King Drive; No. 4 Cottage Grove; No. 6 Jackson Park Express; No. 7 Harrison; No. J14 Jeffrey Jump; No. 26 South Shore Express; No. 28 Stony Island; No. 126 Jackson; No. 132 Goose Island Express; No. 143 Stockton/Michigan Express; and No. 147 Outer Drive Express.
Additionally, Blue Line trains will bypass the Montrose station over the weekend and Green Line trains will not serve five stations due to planned work. Free shuttle buses will run in the affected areas.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.