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September 27, 2015

High security for papal visit draws criticism - near and far

While thousands were enamored with the opportunity to see the pontiff before their very own eyes Saturday, the national press criticized the heavy security measures taken for the papal visit and said that city officials had gone too far.

Rem Reider, writing in USA Today, said that the many measures “seemed to many a major overreaction” and described the scene of no cars and intense military and police presence as “eerie.”

He spoke to a business owner in Northern Liberties who believed too much preparation was better than not enough, especially to ensure the pope’s security, but thought the closures and other precautions were over the top.

The New York Times also noted the "pedestrian-only village" that the city had become and how the rearrangement of normal walking patterns downtown frustrated some residents.

Among the most frustrated and critical of the city's preparations after the first day were a couple of high-profile restaurauteurs. 

Marc Vetri, known for sharing his opinion on everything from food journalism to people staring at their cell phones, had a positive view on the overall impact of the papal event in a Facebook post. But he said it wasn't necessary to close the streets and "beautify" the city in the manner that officials did.

He also lamented sweeping "homeless people off the streets," referring to the evacuation of the Parkway on Friday evening, which left many who normally sleep there without their regular bed. 

Stephen Starr, owner and operator of several upscale eateries in the city, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the impact on restaurants was worse than Hurricane Sandy and said his 20 joints in Philly had "virtually no reservations." 

Vetri actually offered half-priced meals at his restaurant due to the lull while several other high-profile places suffered huge dips in customers, according to the Inquirer.

Several Center City businesses experienced a slowdown Friday as papal restrictions were put in place. 

City officials had expressed hope that the pope's visit would boost the local economy. 

On Saturday evening following the events, several cheap eateries and bars seemed more than full near the Spring Garden section of the city, including Golden Chopsticks Chinese Food on 18th and Spring Garden streets and the Kite & Key bar near 19th and Callowhill streets.