Fingers Crossed, Nutter Says Pope Weekend Won’t Be a Bust

Mayor: "It's not too late to book a hotel room!"

Mayor Nutter | Jeff Fusco. Pope Francis | miqu77 /

Mayor Nutter | Jeff Fusco. Pope Francis | miqu77 /

It wasn’t just House Speaker John Boehner who got teary-eyed during the pope’s speech to Congress Thursday morning. Mayor Michael Nutter says he felt feelings watching it, too.

“I really started to well up a little bit,” said Nutter.

After being dogged by recent media reports suggesting that officials overestimated the number of people who will travel to Philadelphia to see Pope Francis this weekend, Nutter said he is betting that Americans, too, will be so moved by the pope over the next few days that they’ll decide to come to the city.

“I think people seeing the pope in Washington and hearing him and seeing him in New York and the things that will happen there,” said Nutter, “may in fact cause a whole bunch of folks to do something very different on Saturday or Sunday than they had been thinking about a couple of weeks ago.”

Nutter noted that hotels in Center City are on pace to sell out over the weekend. But he continued to make his pitch that people ought to come to Philly. “It’s not too late to book a hotel room!” he said, adding that local businesses will be open and “eager to serve” despite security restrictions.

During the city government’s 7,000th 10th official press conference before the papal visit, officials said they believed the tide was turning and that residents are getting excited about the mega-event after being hesitant for the last few weeks. Judging by Twitter and Facebook, Philadelphians are indeed getting pumped up.

“You can sense how the residents of Philadelphia have gotten the enthusiasm and feel that something big and wonderful is going to happen,”said Meryl Levitz, president of Visit Philadelphia. “There was kind of a pendulum. There was a euphoria at first when we heard about the papal visit. When people realized how big and complicated it was, the pendulum swung a little bit the other way.”

It was clear that officials see the pope’s visit as an opportunity to show off Philadelphia — a much different place than it was 20 or 10 years ago — to the world.

Jack Ferguson, president of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, “We are on the world stage. … This is our time to shine.”

Levitz spoke of a recent “greening and cleaning” of the city.

“People will see a city that’s rich in history and rich in the future,” she said.

And they’ll see a city that loves to party. “We are the city of block parties and this Francis Festival is the mother of all block parties.”