Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia in September 2015, his first to the U.S. as pontiff, is expected to generate $418 million in economic benefits to the region, well in excess of the economic power that economists attributed to the Super Bowl.
That $418 million estimate was calculated using an industry formula developed by Destination Marketing Association International, according to the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families and is also planning to visit New York and Washington, D.C.
"I think it's safe to say that the economic impact for the City and region will be very significant," writes Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in an email. "We don't have any detailed data that we're prepared to share at this time. As you can imagine, there are a host of variables to consider."
The pope's visit has been designated as a National Special Security event by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which means that there will be "multi-jurisdictional funding" for security, he said. The city will charge the World Meeting of Families for other city-provided services such as trash removal.
The timing of the pope's visit couldn't be better for Philadelphia, which is also in the running to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
"That is low tourist season for a place like Philadelphia so you probably aren't displacing that many regular visitors," said Victor Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross, in an interview, noting that the people coming to hear the Pope will probably be less wealthy than people who travel to attend the Super Bowl and the Olympics.
The Pope's visit presents many challenges including raising the $45 million needed to pull of the event, which is expected to attract millions of visitors from around the world.
Organizers are lining up everything from portable toilets to volunteers to host visitors because there are not enough hotel rooms in the region to accommodate them all.
"It's an expensive proposition," said Donna Crilley Farrell, the executive director of the World Meeting, in an interview, adding that the group has received pledges to cover more than half of its projected expenses and is optimistic that it can raise the rest. "We are pleased with how it is going. Corporations have been very encouraging, very responsive."
Pope Francis, who took over leadership of the world's 1 billion Catholics in 2013, is expected to address the crowd on Sept. 26 during what organizers have dubbed "The Festival of Families." He will celebrate mass on September 27. Crowds of around 1 million are due to attend both events.
It will also create plenty of challenges.
Though hotel rooms for the event are still available, there won't be enough to accommodate all the visitors that are expected to travel to Philadelphia.
The World Meeting is encouraging people who live in the area to host out-of-town guests for a fee. So far, about 600 people have signed up to serve as hosts.
"We are going to need thousands," said Crilley Farrell, adding that these types of lodging arrangements are unfamiliar to many Americans though they are common in Europe. "I am confident that as the months go on, more and more people will sign up."
Other issues on Crilley-Farrell's agenda include lining up everything from portable toilets to food vendors that will feed the hungry crowds gathered on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway to hear the pontiff.
While declining to discuss specifics about security, Crilley-Farrell noted that it was a "top priority." Where Pope Francis will stay during his visit hasn't been decided, though it's customary for the pontiff to stay with the local archbishop in the area where he is visiting.
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