Philadelphia planning for its big year in 2026

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. (Photo by Todd DeFeo/The DeFeo Groupe)

(The Center Square) – Philadelphia anticipates a landmark events calendar in 2026 as the city prepares for both the FIFA World Cup and America’s 250th anniversary celebration.

“Hopefully we can do things to remind our citizens of what made this country great over the last 250 years – we can get back to sacrificing our own specific interests for the good of the country,” said former Gov. Edward Rendell at the opening of a recent House Tourism, Economic and Recreational Development Committee hearing discussing the preparations.

Kathryn Ott Lovell, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Visitor Center Corporation, said the organization has partnered other tourism groups – including Visit Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Convention Center – to create Coalition 2026 to manage the festivities and “ensure that Philadelphia is able to meet this unprecedented moment.”

That’s going to take a lot more money, however.

Gregg Caren, president of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, testified that in comparison to other states, Pennsylvania’s tourism industry lacks financial support from the state, though things – like the gaming tax – are improving the situation.

He noted that between America’s 250th, the World Cup, All-Star Game, and several large conventions, 2026 will be the busiest year the region has ever seen. In preparation, he said, deeper conversations are needed to address infrastructure and tourism promotion.

Although the World Cup schedule is not expected until early in 2024, Meg Kane, host city executive for Philadelphia Soccer 2026, warned that key changes will make preparations more demanding.

The tournament will expand from 32 teams to 48, the duration will increase from 30 days to 40 days, and 104 matches will be played as opposed to 64. Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, the host venue, has qualified to host 99 of them. Kane is also hoping to host licensed Fan Fests where local communities can gather to watch the matches.

She said the visitor experience and delivering a seamless tournament for FIFA fall into their work, but the two largest line items in their current budgeting models are safety and security and transportation.

Concerned about the city’s understaffed law enforcement, Rep. Joe Hogan, R-Penndel, worried about the amount of time it will take time to recruit and train additional officers.

“The last thing I want is an international visit where a dignitary is stuck in a dirt bike parade on Broad Street,” he said.

Caren said planners are working with the Philadelphia Police Department and other community organizations to address the challenges, though “there’s an understanding, unfortunately, that you may not be safe anywhere.”

“That’s not the answer that I want to hear or give,” he said. “I want to be part of the solution for our city, and I can tell you that the business and nonprofit community is sitting, ready to talk to our next administration, ready to talk to the state, whatever we can do to bring us back to where we need to be.”

— Lauren Jessop, The Center Square contributor

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