With economic upside comes traffic downside

Visitors pouring into area will spend, tie up roads and parking

Pope's Visit

The Pope In America

April 15, 2008|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,Sun reporter

WASHINGTON -- Linda Clancy stuffed a shopping bag with rosary beads, crosses and T-shirts at the bustling national basilica gift shop yesterday, sheepishly admitting that she shattered her souvenir budget for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.

"I bought about $200 more than I thought I would," said Clancy, 49, who traveled from Tulsa, Okla., for the papal celebration.

Tourism and transportation officials are bracing for thousands of visitors like Clancy who will descend on the capital this week, hoping that money spent for meals, lodging and trinkets will compensate for the jammed roads, no-vacancy parking lots and packed Metro trains heralding their presence.

For a city accustomed to presidential inaugurations, state funerals and Independence Day celebrations, preparing for an influx of visitors from across the country and the globe is nothing new. Still, officials aren't quite sure what to expect from this week's papal visit.

D.C. convention officials have no estimate of the economic benefits of the events because they haven't been directly involved in preparations.

Most of those attending Thursday's Mass at Nationals Park will be day-trippers from parishes in the district and surrounding states. They'll take shuttle buses from RFK stadium to the Nationals stadium and return the same way - so it's uncertain how much of an opportunity they'll get to spend money.

Out-of-towners who might stick around got 15,000 tickets for the stadium Mass, roughly a third of those available.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has reserved 350 hotel rooms for bishops, media and Vatican officials, according to the Washington Business Journal. Other visitors were on their own to find accommodations with friends or family or in hotels.

An average three-night stay for a party of two in Washington generates $1,280 in spending, and day-visitors typically part with about $100 each, said Rebecca Pawlowksi, communications director with Destination DC, the district's convention and tourism agency.

Revenue estimates from the most recent papal visits in other U.S. cities show healthy returns. Baltimore officials calculated $19 million in spending related to a one-day visit by Pope John Paul II in 1995, and St. Louis businesses collected $14 million from visitors in 1999, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Sales of papal merchandise are also difficult to figure. The gift shop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in northeast Washington was doing a brisk business yesterday, moving plenty of yellow papal coffee mugs at $9.95, $19.95 tote bags and $2 "I (heart) the Pope" bumper stickers. The pope will lead a private prayer service there tomorrow and return to adjacent Catholic University of America on Thursday to address Catholic educators.

Susan Nottingham, 39, a stay-at-home mother from Waldorf, selected a $60 framed print of Pope Benedict and said, "It's going in my dining room."

Pope-themed trinkets from independent merchants are harder to find. Build-A-Bear Workshop stores in the district were selling officially sanctioned $6 "Christ Our Hope" logo T-shirts for their stuffed animals, but a quick survey of souvenir shops in downtown D.C. turned up no pope-related merchandise. No vendor permits specifically for the papal visit have been issued, according to Michael Rupert of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

The visit will present a challenge for commuters heading into the district tomorrow and Thursday - the busiest days on the pope's local schedule.

Transportation officials plan to close the Frederick Douglass Memorial/South Capitol Street bridge on Thursday from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. because of the stadium Mass, with the 11th Street bridge as a detour.

Metro officials say that regular riders should expect parking lots to fill early and might wish to carpool or get dropped off at stations.

Metro will run on a rush-hour schedule tomorrow and Thursday, meaning more frequent trains.

Downtown stations are expected to be jammed at midday tomorrow, when visitors line Pennsylvania Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue to view the Popemobile as it travels from the White House to the Vatican Embassy, near the vice president's residence in northwest Washington. Roads along the route will be closed from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The Popemobile will depart later in the day to travel to the basilica. Church leaders are encouraging those who want to see the pope but don't have event tickets to line the route.

"Regular commuters are simply going to have to be patient," said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel, noting that first-time users of the subway might clog entrances.

No road closures in Maryland are planned, said State Highway Administration spokesman Dave Buck, adding that officials will pay close attention to traffic situations on Interstate 95.

david.nitkin@baltsun.com

Impact of the visit

Roads: No road closings in Maryland, highway officials say.

In Washington, sporadic street closures are planned downtown tomorrow along route of Popemobile. Portions of Pennsylvania Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway and Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington could be closed from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Portions of 4th Street and Michigan Avenue in northeast Washington could be closed from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

On Thursday, the Frederick Douglass Memorial/South Capitol Street bridge will be closed from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m.; traffic will be detoured to 11th Street Bridge

Transit: Metro officials say parking lots at ends of lines could fill early tomorrow and Thursday; daylong rush-hour schedule on both days will increase train frequency; downtown stations near Popemobile route are expected to be crowded tomorrow.

[Sources: WMATA; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Maryland State Highway Administration; D.C. police]

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