Coalition against proposed Chinatown arena announced

Chinatown Coalition
Pedestrians walk along 10th Street in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Friday, July 22, 2022.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Opponents of a proposed sports arena in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood have announced formation of a coalition of several dozen groups that will receive assistance from a national civil rights legal organization.

The Chinatown Coalition to Oppose the Arena includes more than 40 Chinatown community groups, nonprofits and business organizations and will have assistance from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, organizers said.

“Our community has been here for 150 years, and we’re not stupid,” said Steven Zhu, head of the Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association, said in a statement. “We know this is a land grab. We know the billionaire developers’ interest is in taking our land and erasing our community.”

The Philadelphia 76ers announced plans last summer to build a $1.3 billion arena just a block from the community’s gateway arch with a planned opening in 2031. The development company behind the arena, 76 Devcorp, said it planned to work with the community to help shape the project.

A 76 Devcorp spokesperson reiterated that statement, saying the company would “continue to meet with community stakeholders to discuss the facts surrounding the proposed arena and how it will positively impact the area.”

Some residents and business owners have expressed concerns about possible traffic and parking problems, spiking property values that force out residents, and ill effects on traditional celebrations and festivals as well as disruptions due to years of construction.

Bethany Li, legal director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told reporters that her group would look into the possibilities of legal action, citing concerns about displacement of especially low-income residents and preservation of cultural hubs.

Four broad-based Chinatown groups last month had announced formation of a committee to look out for the neighborhood’s interests amid talks with the development team, but didn’t announce either an endorsement or opposition. The group said it would update a 2017 study about Chinatown economic and social conditions, population trends and other challenges, saying the results would guide its attitude toward any development plans.

An earlier proposal for a sports facility in the Chinatown area failed in 2000 and so did a 2008 proposal that hoped to put a casino near the current proposed arena site. Opponents also point to disruption from decades of developments such as the convention center and the Vine Street Expressway (I-676).