Immaculate Collection

A Philly restroom company gears up for the Pope's visit in September, drawing on past experience serving huge events
Immaculate Collection

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Ask Alex Townsend what a “big” event is and she’ll have plenty to choose from. After all, the co-owner of Philadelphia’s A Royal Flush has seen ’em all — from Super Bowls and marathons to national political conventions and major musical concerts.

But in late September, the portable restroom company will tackle one of its largest multi-day events yet: Pope Francis’ visit to the City of Brotherly Love on Sept. 26-27. The Pope will make an appearance at Independence Hall on Saturday and celebrate Mass on the Parkway on Sunday; crowds of 1.5 million are anticipated.

A Royal Flush will bring 3,000 portable restrooms — most are Satellite Industries Tufway units — an estimated 300 PolyPortables sinks and 300 ADA units in addition to several 28-foot restroom trailers. One of those, a Black Tie Eltia, is reserved for the pontiff himself.

“When we got the email that we got the job, I ran into my office screaming,” says Townsend. “That’s the level of excitement.”

She and her business partner Bill Malone are excited for the challenge; they know they have the inventory and experience to take on such a huge — and important — endeavor. “It’s all about the experience,” says Malone. “They don’t want a contractor coming in with a low bid.”

And while Malone won’t reveal the exact cost of the job, he notes it is “less than $1 million and more than $500,000.”

Townsend adds proudly, “We can easily say that we can manage a job (of this magnitude) successfully.”

Tons of prep

“We’ve been playing with numbers for months,” Malone says, calculating just how many units and how much service would be needed for such an epic event.

A Royal Flush, which has been in business for 25 years and owns around 10,000 units, is confident in its planning but Townsend notes that things can change rapidly in this business. “The event industry changes every day,” says Townsend, whose mother was one of the original owners of the company. “It’s ever-evolving.”

“With any special event, the customer always has the right to make changes,” says Townsend. “We like to be ready to add extra toilets or extra service as needed. Bill and I will be on call 24/7.”

And she assures they’ll be prepared for whatever the event will need. A Royal Flush has dedicated 85 employees (in addition to Townsend and Malone, who will be on site 24/7) to servicing the event; they’re even setting up a camp, of sorts, with catering, housing and other essential needs for their team.

An event this big may seem like chaos, but Malone says they prefer to focus on order, organization and safety — things essential for keeping such a large operation moving efficiently.

With the formula of one restroom for every 250 people, some have questioned whether the promoter, ESM Productions, has provided enough facilities. (Another company is providing about 350 urinal stalls, and restaurants and commercial establishments are expected to make up the difference, according to an article on Philly.com).

But Townsend and Malone are confident. “We feel we are providing what they can physically fit in the space,” says Townsend.

Thirty-five of A Royal Flush’s trucks (they use both International and Hino trucks) will be on site throughout the two days, servicing the restrooms several times a day as needed. “Once a toilet becomes full, it will be locked (and cleaned),” Malone says.

Two tractor-trailers of toilet paper will be needed for the event, and continually through the day, tractor-trailers will take 6,400-gallon loads to the wastewater treatment plant near Philadelphia International Airport.

Other considerations

In addition to space and time being tight in the 48-hour period, there’s a lot of work that goes on prior to such a major undertaking. As soon as they got the bid, A Royal Flush moved into planning mode.

Many of their units are already stocked in a shipyard under the Walt Whitman Bridge, ready to move into action; sources say setup must be completed days in advance, especially due to security issues.

Townsend says the Secret Service has very specific requirements for each worker; the company was required to give driver's license numbers, Social Security numbers, birth dates and pictures of each worker and must complete a background check on each one, from the drivers and delivery people to trailer attendants. Security detail must then also screen all the vehicles coming in and out of the venue, using bomb-sniffing dogs and X-raying and looking in tanks with flashlights.

Malone says they’re no strangers to tight security. They’ve also worked at the 1999 Republican National Convention, Quantico (Marine Corps Base and FBI Academy) in Virginia and other tight security venues; but he notes that you do have to factor time for security screens into the day. 

While a papal visit may be a once-in-a-lifetime event, A Royal Flush has served an impressive roster of high-profile events in the past.

“We’ve been in business 25 years; we’ve grown into the big events,” says Malone. “We’re really good at it.”

One of their biggest gigs has been the New York City Marathon; they’ve been servicing that event since 1996. “There was a lot of trial and error,” Townsend admits, especially because the event is spread out over a big area and requires a lot of lead time.

And there can be surprises. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit the week before the New York City Marathon, which was then canceled the Friday before the race. So instead of servicing the race, A Royal Flush deployed its 2,000 units intended for the race to the beaches to support the National Guard’s relief efforts. “We were able to turn on a dime,” says Malone.

“It was important for us to provide that,” says Townsend. “We were happy to do that.”

A Royal Flush has also serviced the Welcome America Concert, the Mummers Parade and the annual Broad Street Run, as well as the 2008 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. While some of the restrooms did sustain some damage due to rowdy crowds at the Preakness, Townsend says there has been very little damage to their units at major events. “It’s never really terrible,” she admits.

And at the papal event, for example, Malone adds, “At a serious event with a lot of security, you’re not going to see it.”

One of the most challenging major events A Royal Flush has served was Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. “It was the first time we had done such a big event in the middle of winter,” says Townsend. “That was one of the hardest ones we’ve ever dealt with.”

Townsend and Malone are thrilled to be servicing Philadelphia for the papal visit, but they know they still have other customers with other events happening in the same time period. Malone notes that there are often 200 to 300 events going on in the city on a given weekend, from big to small.

“We have to take care of our customers who have events,” says Malone. “We can’t forget about them. They’re our bread and butter year after year.”

And any event service — from a one-restroom backyard wedding to the visit of a sitting Pope — is equally important for A Royal Flush.

“Our recognition is more important to us than just getting the bid,” says Malone.



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