The Spirit Of 76 (Place)

I sat in on the first of five virtual community meetings the Philadelphia 76ers will be having to present plans for a new arena. How many minds they will change is anyone’s guess.

Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

One of the first things I learned when I stepped onto Temple University’s main campus is just how attached Philadelphians are to their neighborhoods.

So, if you try to put anything in those neighborhoods without their consent or buy-in, they’re going to make life more than a little tough for you. Temple itself has found that out the hard way through its efforts to build a new football stadium in North Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia 76ers have been getting a crash course in how dedicated city residents are to their neighborhoods since they announced their desire to build an arena, 76 Place, in Center City near Chinatown. Public meetings on the project have been, well, contentious.

Which is why the Sixers decided to hold the meetings online, said David Gould, chief diversity and impact officer for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment.

“We wanted to make sure that this was an opportunity for everybody to get accurate information without any distractions or interruptions,” he said. “We’ve had a few public meetings in the past both in person and virtual where there have been folks who have distracted and sort of not allowed us to complete a presentation or answer questions. And so, we just want to make sure that this was a very clean format, an opportunity for everybody to get information.”

And there was a lot of information to get. In addition to saying that the stadium would be privately funded and given back to the city to use, and that the 1/3 of the Fashion District Mall that would be taken for this project would help preserve retail for the part of the mall that was left, the parts of the presentation that stood out to me concerned mass transportation and affordable housing.

You see, we here at Hall Monitor pay close attention to both SEPTA and affordable housing. And we’ve heard SEPTA tell folks that they need to cut bus routes because the transportation is about to enter a “death spiral” once the city has spent all of its American Rescue Plan funds. So, tell me again how you’re going to increase capacity?

Also, I grew up in New Jersey and know for a fact that unless you live near a PATCO stop, you’re not taking mass transit from Jersey to Philadelphia. The only mass transit system worse than SEPTA is New Jersey Transit and while the state has no problem investing in mass transit north of Route 206, that investment hasn’t been as forthcoming on 206’s southern end. Folks are going to drive. The end.

Also, I can appreciate adding housing to this plan. But, I also want to know what “affordable” means here. Affordability means different things to different people, and there was no definition here.

The presentation also said that the city would benefit from this arena to the tune of $1 billion.

But let’s be honest here. For 76 Place to do what its proponents hope it does, all of the stars have to align.

SEPTA has to manifest the capacity to get thousands of people to and from the arena safely, which means an expansion of regional rail capacity.

The Fashion District has to attract the kind of retail, restaurants and experiences that will attract the folks from the suburbs — this arena’s target audience, if we’re honest — to the mall before they hit the arena.

All of the safety improvements that they want to make to Market East have to be effective.

And it would help if the ownership could put a team on the floor that can get out of the second round of the NBA playoffs instead of the group of head cases that currently occupies the roster.

(I still have that bunch of really good packing boxes ready for James Harden to use to leave town, by the way. Call me!)

That’s a tall order. And this is without getting enough community buy-in to make Councilman Mark Squilla comfortable enough to introduce the legislation necessary to make it happen.

And if what the folks at Asian Americans United told the Philadelphia Inquirer after the first meeting is any indication, the Sixers got no closer to getting that community buy-in on Tuesday night. The group called the presentation an “infomercial” and called on the team to come back to Chinatown and talk to residents there.

During Tuesday’s virtual meeting, team officials said they’d do that.

But until then, the Sixers have scheduled more meetings for August. The meetings will be on Tuesday, Aug 22 (this meeting will be for Mandarin speakers), Aug. 29, (this meeting will be for Cantonese speakers), and a final meeting on Aug. 31. All meetings will be held from 6pm-8pm.

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