Cardella: Sixers Propose Move To Center City

Philadelphia is the “Can’t Do” city. We’re known for our “Can’t Do” spirit. And damn proud of it, too. Want to develop the waterfront like some other cities? Not here, Jake. You can’t do that here. You want to develop Roosevelt Park? We’ll fight you on that one, too. It took several tries to get the Phillies and Eagles new playing fields. Wanted to build the baseball park in Center City, but Chinatown scotched that plan. We got miffed in South Philly when the new stadiums were dumped on us, but we got some concessions out of that one. Secured our parking spots. Added security so fans stopped peeing on our lawns. Minimized traffic congestion. The proposed retractable dome for the ballpark never really got off the ground. Too expensive. But this latest idea by the Sixers is different.

It’s estimated that it will take $1.3B to build a new arena in the Fashion District. None of it involves taxpayer money. The whole shebang would be privately financed. The city would have to include an extension of the 30-year tax abatement on the land. But that’s land no one is rushing to develop. Crisis alert to South Philly residents: Are we going to be forced to be positive about the Sixers’ plans?

Early polls still show an even split between the two sides. So there’s still a chance that our “Can’t Do” spirit will win out. And then there’s always Chinatown, which – according to reports — is against a new Sixers arena being built in the Fashion District. Why? The reason given is the same vague one always given. Fear of a negative impact on the community. Councilperson Helen Gym reportedly has already announced her opposition.

Gym is a potential candidate for mayor. She’s considered a progressive. Progressives don’t seem so progressive when it comes to bringing new business into the city. Question for Councilperson Gym: Without knowing all the details of the Sixers proposal, how can you flatly oppose it? Note — in South Philly when we oppose stuff, we’re called “NIMBYSs” (Not In My Back Yard). But when Gym and Chinatown oppose new development in Center City, no one calls them “NIMBYS.” Just progressives. The wokest of the woke. But I suggest they’re the very opposite of progressive if they are unwilling to give the Sixers’ plan a fair hearing.

In opposing a new stadium in South Philadelphia, the community group led by Barbara Capozzi smartly used its leverage to get meaningful concessions. By the same token, Chinatown will have leverage with the Sixers. Instead of robotically opposing the proposal, Gym should consider the opportunity to benefit Chinatown. Surely they, too, would benefit if a new Sixers arena can jump start the economic revitalization Center City needs so badly. Councilperson David Oh seems to be willing to approach the proposal with an open mind.

It’s not a slam dunk that the Sixers’ proposal will succeed. The project is estimated to take nine years to complete. Who knows what Center City will look like in nine years? Will the pandemic still be a factor in preventing employees from returning to their offices? Will the already high level of violence increase during those nine years? If folks don’t feel safe, they will not ride the subways and commuter rail into town.

The nine-year timeline could be a positive factor. Adequate time to plan for an expansion and improvement of public transportation. For the most part, violence has not been a problem inside or outside the city’s sports arenas. There’s no reason for that to change. Fans are going to an arena to see basketball, not raise hell.

The factors that forced the Phillies to accept a ballpark in South Philly rather than Center City are not as obvious in the current proposal. For one thing, there’s a huge difference in the proposed 18,000 or so seating capacity for a new basketball arena than there was for a new ballyard (50,000).

The current Wells Fargo Center in South Philly does not do much for bringing new business into the area. Most fans seem to spend their money inside the facility. The proposed new arena would be built on top of Jefferson Station, allowing for fans to patronize surrounding businesses when they arrive.

There is a question in my mind as to whether the entertainment base in the city can support yet another arena. If the proposal became a reality, Philadelphia would be the ONLY city where the hockey and basketball teams play in separate arenas. This means that both the proposed Sixers arena and the Wells Fargo Center would have to compete for bookings to fill out their events calendars. And both arenas would have to compete for bookings with the relatively new Met on North Broad Street. At the same time, our professional sports teams would be less likely to be forced to endure long road trips to accommodate “Disney On Ice,” etc.

With one team no longer playing its home games in South Philly, the impact on our community is less certain. If the Wells Fargo Center is unable to fill out its calendar, then we might see some layoffs of work staff and other arena employees. Many of them are older and live in South Philly. They would be unlikely to follow the Sixers into their new arena. The organization has already promised to fill its jobs in the new arena with minorities.

In the grand scheme of things, the proposed new arena should bring in more acts and create additional job opportunities.

Is the “Can’t Do” city about to change its image?