Businesses in downtown Boston are bracing for commuting chaos when the Democratic National Convention comes to town in July, with some planning to close for the week and others asking their employees to take time off, rather than endure interminable trips to and from work.
Yesterday's announcements that North Station will be shuttered for a full week and the Central Artery will be closed during late afternoon and evening kicked off what is likely to be months of frenzied planning by downtown companies and the tens of thousands of workers they employ.
Massachusetts General Hospital is scheduling appointments early in the day during convention time or moving them to other weeks. Some architects, accountants, and financial firms are telling employees to work from home. A small Causeway Street cleaning company called MaidPro may close between July 26 and July 29 and try to rent out its office space, because nearly all its 25 employees would be forced to ride the crowded subway or commuter trains.
"Boston may be dirty for a week," said Jane Koopman, MaidPro's director of marketing. "We're just talking about either closing down for the week and taking a financial hit or working [on the company's administrative tasks] from home. . . . But we can't just say, `Hey everyone stay at home,' because not everyone has broadband."
Paul Guzzi, president and chief executive of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, said he will organize a series of forums for business leaders to raise concerns with police and transportation officials and to discuss ways to handle commuting problems.
"To the extent employers can schedule vacation during that period of time, that would make good, common sense," Guzzi said. "This is for a finite period of time. We've gone through things before, nothing perhaps of this magnitude, but given the magnitude of this event, there's an acceptance of what has to be done."
Convention planners conceded that commuters will be inconvenienced when the Democrats converge on Boston to nominate their candidates for president and vice president. But they said plans will be in place to make sure that all Boston businesses, even those within walking distance of the FleetCenter, will be able to stay open because police and other security personnel will allow, for example, delivery trucks and garbage trucks to get into the city.
"We can still maintain a level of security, but allow the restaurants and things of that nature in that area to function," said Steven D. Ricciardi, who is helping organize convention security as special agent in charge of the US Secret Service's Boston field office. "We're working on it. It's something that is going to take a little more planning, and there is a way to do it."
The heads of business organizations said they expect that most companies will be able to work around the inconveniences, especially with nearly four months to prepare for only a few trying days.
Mass. General, which employs more than 10,000 people at its sprawling West End campus just a few blocks from the FleetCenter, faces daunting planning challenges for making sure that its workers arrive on time.
Bonnie Michelman, director of police, security, and outside services for the hospital, said that MGH officials will start some shifts earlier to ensure that employees are in place when they have to be and will work with convention planners to identify alternative routes for staff and patients. She said the hospital is encouraging as many of its employees as possible to take public transportation, so its limited parking is available for patients. MGH's shuttle bus system will be in full operation throughout the convention, she said.
"We will map out in great detail, for all employees on all shifts, what roads will be open and closed, what T lines are available to them," Michelman said. "We are going to be mindful of trying to adjust schedules as best we can, to ease the convenience factor."
Several major downtown employers, including Filene's and Fidelity Investments, said they are awaiting further details from convention planners, but said they are planning various ways to ease employees' commutes.
It's not just those who work in the city who'll be inconvenienced. Kevin Morrissey of Weymouth said his daily commute to and from Lawrence puts him on Interstate 93 at the very late afternoon time that the roadway will be closed.
"I just think it's crazy that they're going to shut down the main vein of the city just to please all these Democrats," said Morrissey, 38, an Internet application developer. "To inconvenience that many people is absolutely crazy."
The potential for travel disruptions is already causing all manner of shifting plans. The bar exam scheduled for some 2,000 recent law school graduates July 28 at the World Trade Center in South Boston has been pushed back by one hour, in case traffic snarls unexpectedly.
Arrangements have been made with three colleges and universities to rent out dorm rooms to bar applicants who need them, because hotel rooms will be scarce with the Democrats in town.
Pam Cassidy, a consultant with New England Financial, said she hopes to work from her Marblehead home on her laptop or just take a vacation in late July. She commutes into the city by commuter rail and subway.
"It's going to be a huge mess," said Cassidy, who added that she nonetheless understood the need for tight security in these times. "But it's only a week, not a month or a year. I think that you can't be too careful in these circumstances."
The accounting firm Grant Thornton, with a 125-person Boston office, may be down to about a dozen employees during the convention, to keep as many workers as possible from having to commute into Boston. The firm is considering asking many of its business advisers to work at clients' offices the week of the convention or to have them take vacation time then, said Joel Anik, managing partner of the company's Boston office. In addition, the firm is looking to close by 3 p.m. during convention week, so those who do come to the office can head out before I-93 closes for the day.
"We will be able to do OK, because it is a popular time of summer to take vacation anyway," Anik said. "For those who do have to come in, I'm hoping we can get them out before it gets crazy down here."
The architectural firm John Battle Associates, which has offices at West End Place, plans to have most of the eight people in its office work remotely, according to owner John Battle. "It will definitely have an impact on our activity here," he said.
So far, relatively few businesses seem ready to close entirely during the convention. Anne Meyers, president of the Downtown Crossing Association, said retail shops and dining establishments want to stay open to take advantage of the fact that the city will have 35,000 out-of-town guests during the convention.
Scott Nogueria, co-owner of Porters Bar and Grill on Portland Street near the FleetCenter, said he figures he has to stay open during the convention if this summer is to be nearly as productive as previous ones. His bar is already losing out on business that would have been generated by the ten or so concerts the FleetCenter would have hosted in July and August if not for the convention, he said.
"We're hoping and praying that we're going to make up for that lost revenue in the week of and maybe the week before and after the convention," Nogueria said. "But I have high hopes and low expectations."
Globe correspondents Kevin Joy and Jessica Bennett contributed to this report. Rick Klein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.