For millions of people in or near New York City, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, Pope Francis’s first trip to America was cause for excitement and celebration. In Philadelphia alone, almost two million people came into the city to see the Pope in person, if only to get a glimpse of him. Because of both the large number of people expected and the importance and rarity of the occasion, preparation for the papal visit began months ago, with each city, especially Philadelphia, undergoing projects to improve and beautify the areas the Pope would be visiting, as well as to make hosting almost two million people as efficient as possible. This large influx of people, paired with the improvements made by the city, were predicted to cause an economic boom for businesses and tourism as well. All of these months of work culminated into a papal visit that, looking back, appears to have been a complete success for the cities.
The vast number of renovations and preparations made, however, did come at a cost, and many have been wondering who is picking up the tab. According to estimates, the city of Philadelphia spent approximately $12 million in the space of the weekend in various areas (see data chart). There is an agreement between Philadelphia and the World Meeting of Families that Philadelphia will be completely reimbursed by the organization by November 30th, with money coming from funds raised by the organization itself. There are, however, still places where taxpayers may have to pick up the slack; for example, in past situations like this one, the government has often covered the costs of security, however the total costs from this papal visit likely exceed the nation’s $4.5 million security budget.
And as for the “economic boom” that was estimated to surpass $500 million in economic impact for Philadelphia, the vast majority of business owners report that they have lost a significant amountof money from the weekend, much to their own dismay. With all the talk of almost two million people coming into the city to see the Pope, many had assumed businesses would be flourishing, but nothing of the sort seemed to occur. With transportation blockages throughout the city and its perimeter, getting from point A to point B was difficult to say the least, discouraging shopping not only by the tourists, but by “regulars” as well, not to mention even making it a challenge for shop owners to get to their own stores. One restaurant owner reported spending $7,500 on food with no one to sell it to. “It’s all wasted,” she told the New York Post. “All the time our mayor was saying a million and a half people, and nothing. Wasted.” Some business owners living outside the city, however, predicted that to try to work would be a waste of time, and simply took the day off. About two months ago I was in the city and began talking to the owner of a jewelry store, and the topic of the Pope’s visit came up. When my mother asked if he thought he’d get a lot of business that weekend, he told us that honestly, no, it was unlikely he would even drive in from New Jersey to work those days, simply because it was unlikely that the people coming in would to decide to commemorate “the time they saw the Pope” with the purchase of a diamond necklace. It seems that these business owners were the only people who saw the flaws in the economic boom prediction, which, needless to say, in a city with 12% of the population in deep-poverty, could have helped the economy significantly had it actually happened. Despite this disappointment, it’s safe to say that Philadelphia’s attempts to prepare for Pope Francis’s visit were a success, and will hopefully serve as a boost to Philadelphia’s tourism market in the future.