Will the Pope’s Visit Cost Taxpayers Money?

Until the city finalizes a contract with event organizers, we won't know.

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When Philadelphia hosts big events like Made in America or the Wawa-sponsored Fourth of July bash, City Hall usually does the same thing. It signs an agreement with the event organizers, spelling out exactly which services it will supply, from police to trash removal, and who will pick up the tab for them.

In a little over week, Pope Francis will be in Philly. But guess what?

The Nutter administration says it doesn’t have a contract ironed out yet with the World Meeting of Families, according to a report by Philly.com:

“We are in active, regular, and daily discussions with our partners at the World Meeting of Families considering the contractual issues while doing all that needs to be done to prepare for this great event,” Mayor Nutter’s spokesman, Mark McDonald, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “There will be a signed contract, and there’s nothing unusual about where we are now.”

… City Controller Alan Butkovitz was critical of how the matter was being handled.

“Every day that goes by, the city’s leverage diminishes in negotiations,” he said. “It exposes the taxpayers to the possibility of being on the hook for millions of dollars in expenses that would normally be paid by the host.”

What’s the holdup? A source in the Nutter administration told Philly.com, “If they have some beef, we don’t know what it is.”

The city is cutting it close, to be sure. We have no intel on this agreement, but it’s worth keeping in mind that Nutter has driven a hard bargain with some event organizers in the past. For instance, Live Nation forked over more than $505,000 to the city for services during the 2012 Made in America festival, according to KYW. Comparatively, Made in America “set city taxpayers back nearly $170,000” in Los Angeles in 2014, L.A. Weekly wrote at the time.

Then again, maybe we should worry about the tab for the pope’s visit. Phil Goldsmith, a former city manager under Mayor John Street, speculated that the city may be purposefully holding off on finalizing the contract. “If it’s not signed,” he said to Philly.com, “it’s not considered a public document open to public inspection and scrutiny.”