In 1787, our Founding Fathers gathered in the building that is known today as Independence Hall and reached the Connecticut Compromise that made it possible for both small states and large states to support the newly drafted constitution. Ironically, that same hall has been closed to visitors in the past few days because of the inability of the White House to reach a compromise.
Since midnight between the 21 and 22 of December, about 75 percent of the government has been shut down over the White House’s demand that the federal budget include $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern border.
That shutdown includes the historic sites of Old City that are part of the Independence National Historical Park operated by the National Park Service, a federal agency for which the funding expired on the night of Dec. 21.
That means that the shutdown does not just hurt 800,000 federal employees throughout the country who must work without pay or take an unpaid leave, but it has harsh implications for Philadelphia.
According to the Mayor’s Office, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is the second busiest time of the year for the park, with 70,000 to 100,000 visitors expected. The shutdown is not just disappointing to those visitors, but it has a real economic impact on the city. A 2017 report by the National Park Service estimated that annually, visitors to the park spent nearly $300 million in nearby communities. The report estimated that visitor spending supported 4,600 jobs locally and had an overall economic impact of $439 million.
Roughly translated, every day the park is closed costs the city and its businesses more than $1 million.
There is good news, though. Thanks to a donation from Visit Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park will reopen on Friday for the duration of the weekend before New Year’s. The nonprofit operates as Philadelphia’s official tourism office and receives the majority of its funding from hotel tax revenues. On Thursday, Mayor James Kenney’s office announced that Visit Philly will be donating $32,000 to the National Park Service to cover the operating costs of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall throughout the weekend. The donation is expected to allow 25,000 visitors to enjoy the historic sites free of charge.
Visit Philadelphia should be commended for stepping in and helping out. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time the federal government — both the executive and legislative branches — has dropped the ball and put the onus on cities and states to solve big problems. Closed tourist attractions aren’t the same as an opioid crisis, or deep poverty, or gun violence which the city also must tackle — but the city’s resilience is at the heart of all of them.
The White House should take advantage of Visit Philadelphia’s donation and visit Independence Hall over the weekend and before the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. Maybe our president will be reminded of the value of compromise, and how much good can come of it.