By Randall Yip, AsAmNews Executive Editor
Coleen Young’s family has lived in Philadelphia’s Chinatown for three generations. She fears a proposal to build a new 18,500-seat arena on Chinatown’s border will destroy the community she loves.
Concerns about traffic, a lack of parking and a likely spike in rents have her and many others in Chinatown opposing the arena which the team hopes to open by 2031.
“What is the impact on the social life, the elderly, the community, the children or kids that go to the schools there?” she asked during an interview with AsAmNews. “There is another generation of immigrants that have come from China, who have changed the landscape and have invested in the businesses and try to establish a life for their children.”
She points to what happened in Washington DC’s Chinatown when Monumental Sports and Entertainment built the MCI Center, now the Capitol One Arena next to that city Chinatown in 1997. Arena opponents say what used to be home to 3,000 Asian residents has since dwindled to 300.
Xu Lin is a Philadelphia Chinatown restaurant owner and a board member of a charter school in the neighborhood. He says the 76ers announced their plan without first consulting anyone in Chinatown.
“It’s going to destroy my business. It’s going to destroy my friend’s business, my neighbors,” Lin said over Zoom to this reporter.
He says the team will seek to monopolize the business of its fans by funneling them to establishments and restaurants that are part of the arena.
“They don’t want people to go out and spend money outside. That’s how it works. Right? Parking is already hard in Chinatown. So if people who come here to eat, you know, get services. It’s harder for them to get to find parking,” he stressed.
Wei Chen of Asian Americans United agrees saying 90 percent of the business in Chinatown comes from Asians who come to the neighborhood for food, culture and services, not a sporting event.
Opponents of the arena packed a city council meeting last week successfully stifling a plan to close several streets in the area. Young testified against the plan, saying the team and its political supporters were only trying to fast-track the arena plans.
“The developers want to obtain the zoning and permits by June of next year with no studies or anything. So everything is done underhandedly behind closed doors. We were able to stop that legislation,” she said.
“They come to Chinatown for fundraising. They come to Chinatown for dinner. They should be more careful,” said Chen. “For me, its about the dignity of the Chinese immigrants. They think the Asian people, the Chinese people are not people.”
AsAmNews tried several times to reach the 76ers for comment. A team spokesperson declined to respond to our questions, referring us instead to comments they have already made to media in Philadelphia.
“Our outreach primarily has really been focused on relationship-building and opening up lines of communication with stakeholders, community organizations, business owners, etc.,” said David Gould, the Sixers’ chief diversity and impact officer, said to the Inquirer. “It’s really been around building those relationships and gradually sharing information about the project in smaller, more intimate setting so that we can have a dialogue.”
Opponents say anyone who speaks out against the proposal finds themselves excluded from future meetings. They also vehemently deny claims from the 76ers developer that Chinatown is neutral about the proposal.
He told the Inquirer that the “vast majority” of Chinatown residents are “neutral or positive.”
“Chinatown is not neutral,” said Chen.
One organization in Chinatown that reportedly has joined a steering committee to discuss the proposal is the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. We reached out to the organization, but they did not return our calls by our deadline saying the executive director was in back-to-back meetings.
Some speculate the team is trying to entice support by offering to make them part of the Community Benefits Agreement, which is designed to protect communities from any fallout from any redevelopment.
A town hall meeting about the proposal is scheduled for 6 pm tonight, December 14, at Ocean Harbor Restaurant, 1023 Race Street in Philadelphia. According to organizers, the team has accepted an invitation to attend.
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