Independent review set for Sixers proposed arena

Sixers arena
Shown is the Fashion District shopping center and the proposed location of a new Philadelphia 76ers NBA basketball arena.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

City officials have announced “an independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the Philadelphia 76ers’ proposal to build a $1.3 billion sports arena on the edge of Chinatown, an idea that’s drawn strong opposition from some of the neighborhood’s residents and leaders.

Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday called the proposal announced last summer “an exciting opportunity” but said officials must understand the impact it may have on the surrounding communities before any plans move forward.”

In the coming months, he said, city and public agency partners as well as third-party consultants will complete technical studies on the feasibility and impacts of such an arena in the proposed location. He said that would include assessing “building design, community impact and urban planning, economic impact and parking/traffic impact.”

Kenney also said the developers must ensure that the project “works for the surrounding communities” that would be affected and urged that they be “involved and engaged throughout every step of this process.”

The city’s announcement came hours before an evening meeting scheduled in Chinatown by opponents of the arena, which would be built just a block away from the community’s prominent gateway arch with a planned opening in 2031.

The Sixers current home is in South Philadelphia, along with most of the city’s other pro sports teams. Supporters say the proposed arena, to be based around public transit, would bring needed investment and development, with a “world-class sports and entertainment hub” envisioned nearby.

Neeta Patel, interim executive director of Asian Americans United, hailed the city’s announcement and said community groups expect the city’s examination to include “a comprehensive analysis of the environmental, economic, social, and cultural impact” of such a project on the community. Patel said data on downtown arenas show that such projects “provide little to no benefit for cities while funneling profits to their rich developers.”

Opponents earlier this year announced the formation of a coalition of several dozen groups with aid from a national civil rights legal organization to fight the plan. Some residents and business owners have expressed concerns about possible traffic and parking problems, spiking property values that force out residents, and potential ill effects on traditional celebrations and festivals as well as disruptions due to years of construction.

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).