Proposed 76 Place may not be all sunshine and roses

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It has been billed as a win-win for everyone.

The city of Philadelphia gets a new arena. The 76ers get a new home. Taxpayers get a new revenue source.

What the developers of 76 Place fail to account for was the neighborhoods that would forever be impacted by the new arena complex. Last week the Save Chinatown Coalition brought together a group of independent city planners, real estate developers and economic development experts to explain just how the promises made by the developers of 76 Place need to be taken with a large dose of skepticism.

“We’ve been doing our homework on sports impact studies for a year,” Asian Americans United Executive Director Vivian Chang said. “What we’ve learned is alarming. Studies like this are pay to play. The Sixers bought in, bankrolling the studies and failing to disclose that fact from the start. In months of research, we have yet to find a single commissioned study that predicts a negative return from an arena. That’s the purpose of the consultant studies: To benefit developers.”

The allure of 76 Place mirrors new facilities in Brooklyn for the NBA Nets and Newark for the NHL Devils, who left the Meadowlands Arena vacant, and in Washington, D.C. for the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals, who relocated from nearby Landover, Maryland.

Rashida Ng, Presidential Associate Professor of Architecture and Chair of Undergraduate Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, is among the skeptics of the impact statements touted by the 76 Place developers.

“When it comes to impact studies on sports venues, a clear pattern emerges,” Ng said. “Paid consultants promise significant benefits, but arenas usually fall short by about 80%. We can anticipate the same here in Philly. These consultants are hired to say what stakeholders want to hear to push a project forward, rather than necessarily presenting the truth.”

That skepticism appears to be warranted. Despite having a nearly new arena within the city limits of Washington, D.C., a $2 billion plan to move the teams across the Potomac to Alexandria, Virginia fell through in the final planning stages early last month. The Washington arena is just 27 years old. There’s no telling what would become of the neighborhood there if the arena lost its two biggest tenants.

It’s a cautionary tale for the next city that brings a new arena to its city.

Nydea Graves, the Philadelphia Political Coordinator of One Pennsylvania, understands the stakes.

“Arenas are not for the community, they are for the developers,” Graves said. “76 Place won’t pay any property taxes. Research shows that wages fall for black workers when arenas are built. None of this helps our people. The developers pit black folks and Asian folks against one another, keeping us busy while they profit. 76 Place is the same old exploitation dressed up in a Sixers jersey.”

The Sixers currently play at the South Philadelphia sports complex alongside the Flyers, Phillies and Eagles. Ironically, the Flyers and Phillies are planning a multi-billion-dollar development around the existing stadium and arena sites. Included in those plans are new residential, entertainment and business centers in an area where there are none.

Stephen Zhu represents 32 organizations dedicated to preserving a neighborhood that 76 Place puts in direct jeopardy.

“Chinatown is a working-class community of color that has been marginalized for so long,” Zhu said. “The city’s impact studies don’t account for the contributions of our community’s hundreds of small businesses to this economy, nor study the threat that these small businesses face. You can’t ‘mitigate’ an existential threat. You cannot offer ‘community benefits’ that will compensate for our history, our culture, our relationships, our home.”  

Opinion

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