Whether you're going international with the World Cup or regional with a corporate convention, the cost of hosting public events usually comes with a precedent, and the potential profit typically exceeds the cost.
But Papal visits don't come with the same expectations. In fact, the rarity of such events provides no expectations whatsoever. If you want to know how much it will cost Philadelphia to host Pope Francis in September, you're going to have to wait until he's long gone.
As it stands, no one knows for sure what will happen. Mayor Nutter said that details will be provided next week, but hasn't he been saying that for months? The Secret Service is less optimistic, stating we may not have final details until September, three weeks prior to the event.
Mayor Nutter, proving that he's likely done with public office of any kind, was blunt, stating, "I'm not planning to give every nut case in the universe...advance information." Remember when Mayor Nutter seemed like a friendly lame duck and didn't sound so much like a belligerent Mayor Street?
He's obviously frustrated. But his frustrations are only exacerbating his failure to lead. With the Secret Service and the U.S. Military at the city's disposable, City Hall has been exclusively focused on the Papal visitors. As if Philadelphia is hosting the world's largest County Fair, complete with 142 square miles of clear land for hay-rides and tractor pulls, the city has completely ignored its 1.5M residents and a city that will need to operate in tandem with the event.
In order to function, Philadelphians need to know the very basic logistics of the event: What streets will be closed? Will there be checkpoints and where? And, if we need to get out of town, when will we need to leave? We needed to know this a year ago.
For many Philadelphians without the freedom to flee, there are thousands of service industry employees - waiters, bartenders, hotel staff - that will be expected to work overtime during the event. Many of these employees don't live in Center City, some in the suburbs. How will they get to work if roads are closed, SEPTA is shunted, and bridges are blocked?
Will hotels be sacrificing valuable rooms for their employees living in Conshohocken and New Jersey, or will they be expected to crash in utility closets for the weekend? Hourly employees blocked by security will just have to eat a weekend's salary and hope their employers understand. It would be Christian of the Vatican to give them a Visa gift card.
All of this on behalf of the State's decision to handsomely accommodate the Church. Where is the Vatican's input into all of this? If the Catholic Church is funding any of the Secret Service and Military details - resources reserved for matters of State - it hasn't been made apparent.
As City Hall struggles with ensuring a safe visit for Pope Francis and his guests, they've essentially told 1.5M Philadelphians, and 6M Greater Philadelphians, "You're gonna have to deal with that when the time comes."
|#popefence Bradley Wrenn|
One thing they've secured is an epic disaster, one that might easily rival Philadelphia's notoriously divisive Bicentennial Celebration. Poor planning forced thousands to cancel plans and avoid Philadelphia altogether in July of 1976. Like the Bicentennial Celebration's overestimation of 100 thousand visitors, our expectation of 2M pilgrims may be grossly misguided.
Vistors have been planning for the Papal visit for over a year now. Hotel rooms booked twelve months ago were booked under the assumption that Philadelphia would be operating at some level of efficiency. But Philadelphia is a big city and an even larger region. Thousands of hotel reservations were made beyond Center City, in the suburbs, and New Jersey and Delaware.
With complications looming and no final response from City Hall, will visitors that reserved rooms in the suburbs or at the airport be walking to Logan Square, or will they simply be canceling their reservations.
The sad truth is, we don't need attitude from Mayor Nutter and City Hall, we need answers and guidance.
Small shore towns in the Carolinas are accustomed to guests that book rooms and houses years in advance, did those presiding over the nation's fifth biggest city honestly fail to recognize the fact that City Hall needed to make plans before their visitors from Germany and Argentina?
The biggest crime in all of this is City Hall's complete absent regard for its own citizens, the "deal with it" language from our own mayor, and a complete failure to offer a single inkling as to what the city's 1.5M residents are expected to do on Friday, September 25th.
At this point, City Hall has already lost its credibility. "Next week" is a year too late.