Calling the project an “existential threat,” opponents of the Sixers arena proposal gathered Friday to urge City Councilmember Mark Squilla to honor his commitment to the community and not introduce the zoning legislation developers need to start building.
During a packed community meeting in December, Squilla told the crowd that he would only “move forward” with a bill if residents supported the legislation after having an opportunity to review the measure.
“If you do the wrong thing, we will never forget. It will be remembered that, in spite of your promises and the desires of most of the city, you destroyed Chinatown,” said Debbie Wei, founder of Asian Americans United, during a news conference in the neighborhood.
Wei’s vow came on the one-year anniversary of the Sixers announcing the team wanted to leave its home in South Philadelphia and build a $1.3 billion arena — dubbed 76 Place — along Market Street, less than a block from Chinatown.
Activists organized the news conference to mark the occasion, and to reassert their opposition to the arena despite losing “faith in this process.”
Two days ago, the city announced the Sixers would be bankrolling three impact studies designed to independently evaluate the team’s proposal, a fact opponents fear will yield findings favorable to developers. Critics have previously raised concerns about the studies, saying the request for proposals for them were written in a way that makes the arena seem like a “foregone conclusion.”
“Common sense knows that now that [76 Devcorp] is paying for the study, their influence is greater than if they weren’t,” said Rev. Robin Hynicka, who leads Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City.
In a statement, a spokesperson for 76 Place said the studies will show “how much of a benefit a new arena will be for the City, its workers, neighboring businesses and taxpayers.”
“The new 76 Place will be the single largest privately funded development in City history, generating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of additional tax revenues as it serves as an anchor of the revitalization of Market Street East,” according to the statement.
In an interview, Squilla said his decision to introduce — or not introduce — zoning legislation for the arena will be based on the findings of the impact studies. If the results are a mixed bag, he said he would “maybe” move forward with a bill and let the legislative process play out.
That would include a public hearing, a committee vote, and two separate votes by the full City Council.
“If it comes back and says, “Hey, listen, it doesn’t work in this location. The city can’t sustain two arenas of this size or whatever comes back and says it just isn’t feasible, then I would say, ‘Yeah. I mean, it’s very possible that it wouldn’t be introduced,” said Squilla.
The three-term lawmaker said he doesn’t have a personal opinion about the arena proposal one way or the other.
“If I was opposing it, why would we have all these studies done? And if I was supporting it, why would we jump through all these hoops if we’re saying we’re gonna do this anyway?” said Squilla.
City Council reconvenes in September.
The Sixers want to move into the new arena in 2031, the same year the team’s lease ends at the Wells Fargo Center.
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