Barring a last-minute political miracle, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, routinely ranked as Philadelphia's two most popular tourist attractions, will be indefinitely closed at 5 p.m. today as part of the larger shutdown of the federal government. Ironically for Tea Partiers channelling Revolutionary War-era vibes, the entire Independence National Historical Park, which encompasses most of the colonial attractions in Philadelphia's Old City, will have its funding frozen if legislators fail to pass a budget bill by midnight tonight. There is little hope at this point that an agreement will be reached.
Popular tourist attractions are, of course, just a small, but highly visible part of the shutdown, caused by Republican insistence that any budget deal also involve the gutting of key provisions in Obamacare. The political intractability will see 700,000 federal employees and countless federally run facilities idled until a deal is reached. Many smaller agencies that rely on federal funding will also be affected.
The Independence Visitors Center, an organization that serves as a kind of welcome mat for tourists in Philadelphia's historic district and is based on Independence Mall, derives 20 percent of its funding from federal sources. IVC President and CEO James Cuorato says that in addition to curtailing their tourism- promotion efforts, their popular visitor center and gift shop on the mall will be closed, too.
"The majority of people still come to Philadelphia for history and the historic area. Unfortunately, they are going to be shut out from seeing the birthplace of democracy. It's a shame, it's unfortunate," he said. "I hope it's over quickly and we're able to get back to our goal of making visitors feel good and happy about being in Philadelphia. And with these shutdowns, they're not going to feel good about being here."
He encouraged visitors to see other, non-federally-funded tourist attractions in the area as "alternatives," but underlined the impact the closure would have on the larger neighborhood, and the city as a whole.
"There are some good alternatives: Franklin Square, the Betsy Ross house, the National Museum of American Jewish History," he said. "If people are down here and wandering around, some other institutions may benefit from that. But I think if you ask them they would tell you this is not good for the city or the region."
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