PHILADELPHIA – Add it to the list of notable Philadelphia firsts. On Friday, the city became the first U.S. municipality to gain the elite title of World Heritage City, joining the likes of Paris; Jerusalem; St. Petersburg, Russia, and Prague in the Czech Republic.
Those who lobbied for the designation — which was officially approved at the World Heritage organization’s meeting in Arequipa, Peru — called it a point of civic pride.
But they stress that the title has tangible benefits, too, with the potential to draw millions of dollars in tourism revenue, strengthen Philadelphia’s international image, and open business connections with the 266 other World Heritage cities around the globe.
“We have an opportunity to really look over the menu and decide what kind of relationship we’d like to foster,” said John F. Smith III, chair of the Global Philadelphia Association, which worked on the bid. “We would like nothing better than to connect people, to achieve commercial marriages, to let people start talking directly to each other … and see where it goes.”
World Heritage cities have all made notable impacts on the world and are each home to a UNESCO World Heritage site. Independence Hall became a UNESCO heritage site in 1979, significant because both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were both signed there.
Philadelphia became an observing member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities in 2013 and officials have sought full status since.
Mayor Michael Nutter on Friday called the designation “the start of a new and exciting chapter” in the city’s history.
“As we celebrate this milestone, the next step is to focus on the future and how we can optimize this World Heritage City recognition to attract more people to visit, invest, work, study, and live in Philadelphia,” he said.
Increased tourism revenue is the most apparent benefit. According to a study commissioned by the city, the designation — if properly marketed — has the potential to increase foreign visitation by 10 percent to 15 percent, about 60,000 to 100,000 people annually. That would generate about $150 million per year in expanded economic activity.
Domestic tourism, the study said, could grow by 1 percent to 2 percent, generating an extra $100 million to $200 million in economic impact.
Denis Ricard, secretary-general of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, said that Philadelphia will gain access to programs that help cities maintain and promote their heritage.