With $82 million incentive for practice facility, Sixers make fast break for Camden

The Philadelphia 76ers team is now on track to build a practice facility and team headquarters along the Camden waterfront thanks to a multimillion-dollar tax break.

Under a deal approved this week, New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority will give the franchise $82 million over the next decade to cover construction costs.

Proponents maintain the dollar-for-dollar agreement will be a big boon for the struggling city.

Arthur Campbell, president of the Camden County Regional Chamber of Commerce, is one of them. He’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of the complex’s 250 employees.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“If it’s bringing 250 employees then they are also consumers. So, there’s 250 people to spend money, quite frankly, in the city of Camden, whether it’s at the Battleship or the Adventure Aquarium or the Camden Riversharks or downtown,” said Campbell.

Camden County Freeholder Louis Cappelli Jr. is focusing more on the future.

“The fact that the Sixers are willing to come to Camden City will indicate to other businesses that it’s safe to be in Camden, Camden is a good place to do business and a good place to invest. It’s an image changer,” said Cappelli, who leads the freeholder board.

It’s unclear, though, how much the project will help Camden financially since it doesn’t have a wage tax and most of the jobs tied to the facility are already filled.

State Sen. Michael Doherty, a Republican from Warren County, said the project is “preposterous” given New Jersey’s financial woes and Sixers president Joshua Harris’ net worth.

What’s more, he said, similar projects failed to pan out in the past. He said he doesn’t understand why people think this one will be any different.

“If the free enterprise system supports building a practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, well, great, let the free enterprise system do it. But the idea of the government getting involved and improving the economy and picking the winners and losers and the locations and the type of investment, it hasn’t worked,” said Doherty.

Gordon MacInnes with New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal think tank, agrees with Doherty’s main message: The tax break doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The math, he said, just doesn’t add up.

“For every job that will be created, assuming it goes forward, the taxpayers will give up $328,000 down the road in terms of taxes that would otherwise be collected. I don’t think there’s ever been any incentive granted that even comes close to that number,” said MacInnes.

The Sixers are the only team in the NBA that doesn’t have its own practice facility.

For years, players have run layup drills at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on City Line Avenue, which the team leases.

It’s hoped a brand-new, 24-hour facility will help attract the kind of talent the Sixers desperately need to become a competitive NBA franchise.

“For the common man or woman, it’s what’s the office looks like,” said Ken Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.

“If it comes right down to it at the very end, if you get the corner office with the view of the ocean and that job is the same as the one where you have a cubicle, that may be the job that you take,” he said.

The four-acre project is expected to break ground in October and open in June 2016.

The EDA, which unanimously approved the tax break, has estimated the net economic benefit to be more than $70 million over the next 35 years.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal