U.S. Open Proved Philadelphia is World Class
July 5, 2013
Nicholas DeBenedictis, Philadelphia Business Journal
Guest Commentary by Nicholas DeBenedictis, Chairman, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau
The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Urban Land Institute-Philadelphia recently rolled out their "World-Class Infrastructure GPS," a visionary roadmap produced by civic, business and government leaders that charts a course towards a more economically vibrant and globally competitive future for our region.
As a panelist at this event, I was struck by its timing. Just one week earlier, Greater Philadelphia was already celebrating one of its world-class assets, playing host to one of the most significant championships in all of professional sports: the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club - and right in our backyard.
Nobody thought Merion was capable of hosting a modern U.S. Open. Too short for today's top golfers, said the skeptics, and too space-constrained for the number of fans that descend each year on golf's biggest weekend.
But by all accounts, the tournament was an unmitigated success, both on and off the course. The winner Justin Rose proclaimed: "Philadelphia has been my town. I've had a lot of good will in the crowd." Runner up Phil Mickelson was also pleased: "It's great the way the City of Philadelphia has supported this tournament. I hope we have a chance to come back." This support was not a foregone conclusion or act of fate, but a product of deliberate plans that brought together leaders from dozens of agencies, led by USGA and Merion, including the Philadelphia Sports Congress and Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, for the most complicated U.S. Open set-up in recent memory.
Take transportation. With no on-site parking, the USGA began working with partners well over a year ago to figure out how to get more than 35,000 spectators and volunteers to and from Merion each day. Remote parking and shuttle locations were arranged for drivers as far away as PPL Park in Chester.
But with road closures and dire traffic forecasts, attendees were encouraged to use public transportation, and so SEPTA added service to its nearby Norristown High Speed and Paoli/Thorndale Rail Lines to accommodate the anticipated influx of passengers. The result: more than one-half (15,000) of all spectators and volunteers took SEPTA to the course each day. According to USGA officials, it was the best experience they've had with a public transit agency ever.
This single event, with all of its trappings, pumped more than $100 million into the region's economy. Hotels, restaurants and other businesses saw a big bump in sales. Those watching on television may have noticed another harder-to-quantify, but very real, economic impact: civic branding and we can thank Philadelphia's own Comcast and NBCUniversal for that. No one could have paid for the sort of reputational boost that Philadelphia received from hosting this golf tournament. For four days, we were the backdrop for an event broadcast all over the world.
And none of it would have been possible without the foresight and collaboration of committed regional leaders who saw to it that our region looked great on a global stage. In that way, I see the U.S. Open at Merion as a glimpse of what a world-class future looks like, and a case study in how to get there.