Unless you've been living under a rock all summer, it's common knowledge that Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia September 26th and 27th. The news about unprecedented security measures being put in place has the majority of the city's population in a tizzy. Rightfully so, with talk about a huge fence cordoning off swaths of center city, shutting down major bridges and requiring a special transit pass just to catch a train from some very limited locations. Back when the Pope's visit was first announced, city businesses rejoiced. After all, the papal mass on Sunday is anticipated to draw 1 to 2 million people to the Parkway. Those folks need places to stay, food to eat and places to shop. What local business wouldn't be ecstatic?
Not so fast. In recent weeks, the city has announced what appear to be some pretty extreme security measures that will be put in place for the papal visit. Starting with extremely limited SEPTA service, a 3.5 mile no-vehicle zone in Center City and airport security-type screening, it's a wonder that anyone, let alone 1.5 million people, will be able to get into Center City at all. For business owners, it's become a logistical nightmare.
In fact, the city has needed to set up a Business Resource Center to deal with business concerns. Allegedly, today the city will publish a hotline on their website (still not published as of this post), for businesses to call with concerns or questions about the weekend. Businesses in Center City concerned about deliveries and getting employees into the city for work are urged to contact the city and consult the street closure maps well in advance. Similarities to a major snow storm in terms of advance planning have been drawn. We all know what a major snow storm does to local business: it's totally crippling.
That leaves the us with the question: is the Pope's visit good for local businesses? Put more bluntly, will any local business profit from this visit and the anticipated throngs of people it will bring to Philadelphia? First, with all of the security measures in place, is it even clear that these throngs will be able to arrive? Secondly, if they do materialize, will businesses be able to have enough staff and inventory on hand to cope? A huge surge of customers is great, but not if a business owner can't replenish resources fast enough or get additional staff to help. Finally, from a business perspective, is there merit in hosting such a huge event if local business cannot benefit? After all, local businesses are the ones here every day of the year, working hard and paying extraordinary amounts in taxes just for the privilege of operating in this city. Should the input of local businesses be considered in planning such events? All of these questions are a great start for a future dialogue with the city.
Thoughts? We'd love to read your comments below.
Sarah E. Holmes is a Philadelphia business attorney and strategist that helps start ups and established businesses looking to expand, protect their assets and increase their profits in an approachable, down-to-earth way.