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3NEWS EXCLUSIVE | Cleveland Sports Commission: 'Full steam ahead' for NFL Draft in Northeast Ohio

David Gilbert, President & CEO of Destination Cleveland and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, talks tough challenges and new opportunities brought by pandemic.

CLEVELAND — David Gilbert has faced some tough questions and difficult decisions during the past six months.

"We're now working through the challenges of you know, sort of hitting rock bottom, and where do we plan our growth for the next several years," Gilbert said in a recent interview with 3News' Dave Chudowsky.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unexpected and unprecedented challenges to both tourism and sporting events, two driving factors for economic development in Northeast Ohio, and the two industries served by the President and CEO of Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission.

"Those also are things that make Clevelanders feel good about their own community, so we have to make sure those keep going and that this community believes in itself."

So Destination Cleveland has had to get creative, with new initiatives and campaigns like Clean Committed and Rediscover CLE -- designed to inspire visitors and locals alike.

"As we start to shift back to promoting Cleveland as a place to visit, [we want to make] sure that people from the outside see our community and understand that we care about their safety and their health and we're doing something about it," said Gilbert of the recent efforts.

And Gilbert says he's already seeing signs of hope. 

"On the Sports Commission side, we've had seven of our 10 national events we're hosting this year cancelled. But thankfully, we think all of those, and others by the end of the year, we will have firm commitments for future years for those events taking place in Cleveland."

And, he says he believes Cleveland is well-positioned to bounce back, with more travelers considering shorter-haul driving trips, instead of flying.

"And that actually bodes well for Cleveland. That's sort of our bread and butter in terms of visitor traffic."

He also says he believes Cleveland has shown it can rise above challenges time and time again.

"Look, we have a lot of big city problems like any any any big city, but we we've proven our resiliency over and over again, and I think that's going to be the same thing here."

In fact, the pandemic could actually help drive new change in the region -- as remote work opens up new possibilities, and people start to move away from major population centers.

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"Certainly there's a thought that places like Cleveland, where you still have wonderful amenities [that] can be had for a lot less crowds, and a lot cheaper, and now with you know with COVID highlighting that remote working is something that that may be a bigger part of our future, I think it is absolutely part of an important future strategy for us."

As for the future of hosting large-scale events here? Gilbert says, save the date.

"We're already in the pipeline for a number of other significant events that we hope in the next four to six months to be able to announce. Cleveland has become one of the top places in the country for hosting major sporting events and we expect every bit of that to continue."

But as for the million dollar (or should we say, billion dollar) question on many Northeast Ohioans minds right now, Gilbert says the 2021 NFL Draft is still set to go.

"Right now, it is full steam ahead for a live event in Cleveland, a very large in-person but socially distanced event taking place the end of next April, down on our lakefront. ... I'm not smart enough to know what the world's gonna look like [then] but we are certainly working toward that, and if we're there, what an incredible coming out party for Cleveland it would be."