Some South Philly politicos oppose Sixers arena

Josh Harris
Josh Harris

Billionaires collect shiny new things. Even when they don’t really need them.

When the co-founder of the private equity firm Apollo Global Management took a look at his bulging pocketbook, he started gathering things to make himself happy.

That’s how Josh Harris started collecting big ticket sports teams.

Most recently, Harris bought the Washington Commanders. He already owns hockey’s New Jersey Devils, English football team Crystal Palace and is part owner of NASCAR’s Joe Gibbs Racing.

More importantly for Philadelphians, Harris is the principal owner and general partner of the 76ers. Not content to only own the area’s professional basketball team, Harris has aspirations to build a new arena for his team to play in.

Not content to share a building with the NHL’s Flyers, Harris intends to build the new arena, 76 Place in the Chinatown section of Philadelphia.

That effort has united two disparate and vital parts of the city — South Philly residents and the Asian community.

“Philly sports fans are unparalleled, and the South Philly complex is part of what makes us unique,” 2nd Ward Democratic committeeperson Edward Garcia said. “We should be building on what is already working at the sports complex, rather than disrupting Center City.

“As a sports fan, I’d love to see more small businesses, restaurants and places to enjoy the game within the South Philly complex. There’s no need to disrupt and harm Chinatown when there’s plenty of room and space to grow in South Philly.”

Since the time that Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum were built in the shadow of JFK Stadium, the center of the Philadelphia sports world has been in South Philly. JFK opened as Municipal Stadium in 1926 and stood until 1992 on the site where the Wells Fargo Arena now stands.

The Vet and Spectrum are long gone, with Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park rising in their place. There is no better all-sports complex in the country.

Harris wants to transplant his Sixers to Chinatown.

“76 Place has been a lesson in how development in our city is done and how community voices are deliberately sidelined,” Asian Americans United interim executive director Neeta Patel said. “Our city officials should be at least as responsive to us, the people who elected them, as they are to developers.”

Opponents of the arena project include the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Advocacy for Racial Civil Justice Clinic under the umbrella of the Save Chinatown Coalition.

The Save Chinatown Coalition has fought for transparency in the development’s dealings with the state and city and to give local residents input in the project. According to the coalition more than 90 information requests have gone unanswered.

“Community members deserve a say in decisions affecting their city, and part of that is knowing what’s been said by decision makers in the rooms they’re not invited into,” AALDEF member Annie Lo said. “These information requests will help shed light on the conversations between elected officials and the developers that have been taking place behind closed doors. As a matter of public interest, information about the arena proposal must be made available to community members — especially those who would be most impacted by the plan.”

As much as Chinatown residents are wary of the impact of a brand-new arena in their midst, South Philly sees the potential of similar disruptions.

“The sports complex works for South Philadelphians,” Ward 39A Democratic leader Maureen Brown said. “It is easy to take public transit, walk, bike or drive to the complex to support our teams, take in a concert or to get to work. Taking a team out of the sports complex feels like a loss to our culture in South Philly.”

That feeling is not limited to South Philadelphians.

The New Jersey Devils and New Jersey Nets once shared a home as part of the Meadowlands Complex, with Meadowlands Raceway and Giants’ Stadium, home to the New York Jets and Giants.

The Devils left for a new arena in Newark, the Nets are now in Brooklyn, the Jets and Giants play in a barely-decade-old $1.6 billion stadium built next to the original stadium.

The Meadowlands is nice but it’s not what it once was, a hub for New York sports.

“In South Philly we love having the Sixers at the Wells Fargo Center,” 1st Ward Democratic leader Kathleen Melvin said. “Those are good jobs in a great arena that just underwent millions in upgrades. Our city doesn’t need another arena that will sit empty most days of the year, when there are plenty of big projects that need to get done in our city. We should put people to work on new schools or new housing, but one thing we don’t need is another arena.”

When community organizations from separate areas of the city are united in one cause, our city leaders should listen. The proposed 76 Place needs to be more than a shiny new bauble for a billionaire to collect.

“We believe that the proposed arena is incompatible with the neighborhood including Chinatown, Market East and Center City Philadelphia,” Center City Organized for Responsible Development president Clark Dingman said. “We unanimously feel that this project would have a negative impact on businesses and residents in Center City.”