Conventional thinking will pose a test for Philly’s next mayor

 The Ben Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia will be hosting visitors during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.(Kim Paynter/NewsWorks File Photo)

The Ben Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia will be hosting visitors during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.(Kim Paynter/NewsWorks File Photo)

Experts say the region’s hospitality industry has come a long way, and is ready to play host to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

But how well the next mayor’s administration will play its part is another question.

“If you compare the hotels between now and 2000, we have a lot to offer,” said Ed Grose, director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association, harkening back to the year when the city hosted the Republican National Convention. “A lot of the hotels have upgraded their service. The Radisson is now a Radisson Blue, the Crown Plaza is now a Sonesta … we have really upped the ante in the hotel market.”

Grose, like hospitality professionals across the region, was delighted to learn that Philadelphia had won its bid, and he’s confident that the region has the capacity it needs to host tens of thousands of conventioneers.

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“This is great news, not only for the city, but the entire region,” he said. “This will put us on the national stage.”

But there’s more to hosting a convention than hotel rooms and restaurants.

Ira Rosen, a professor at Temple University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, said  what really distinguishes Philadelphia as an event destination is its recent history of effective teamwork.

Over the last 15 years, Philadelphia has built a reputation for successfully planning and executing major public events, including the Made in America concert series and the annual Wawa Welcome America celebrations.

“The RNC was a huge crapshoot. It was a big roll of the dice,” said Rosen, who has planned and organized numerous large events himself, including the Philadelphia Flower Show. “And the city has done great on every major event since.”

Such events require the coordination of all sorts of public agencies, including police and medical services, travel and tourism agencies, financial planners and more. Under the Nutter administration, Rosen said, coordination among those agencies and officials and their nonprofit and private-sector partners has been excellent.

“One reason we probably got this is that from the managing director’s office to the police commissioner to the operating folks on the street, they do a phenomenal job,” Rosen said. “They think about it, they bring in professionals to talk about it.”

Rosen expects Nutter’s team to continue to set a high standard. But his administration will be gone by 2016, meaning it will be up to the next mayor to handle the final stages of planning and the event itself.

That means that the 2016 convention could soon be an issue on the campaign trail, Rosen said.

“One of the legitimate questions for our candidates is, how will you handle the DNC?” Rosen said. “The police commissioner, the fire commissioner, the director of emergency services, the managing director – these are political appointments. What kinds of people will our next mayor look for to fill those positions? To me, it’s a legitimate question as they begin to form their platforms moving forward.”

Rosen says the convention will pose a number of challenges, especially with security. “It’s like Murphy’s Law – something will go wrong,” he said.

But he also said September’s papal visit will make for excellent dress rehearsal. “It doesn’t get bigger than the pope – no offense to the president,” he laughed.

And Grose said that while a lot of work went into Philadelphia’s successful bid, and much more remains to be done, courting the convention wasn’t all nose-to-the-grindstone stuff. “There were a lot of late-night parties,” he said with a smile. “Nothing like a party. It was a great opportunity for the delegates to see Philadelphia.”

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