One year after the Philadelphia 76ers (Sixers) announced a proposal to build an arena in the heart of Philadelphia, Pa., interfaith community leaders and Chinatown community leaders held a press conference calling on Councilman Mark Squilla to keep his promise that the project would only advance with community support.
During a December 14, 2022 Chinatown community meeting on the arena proposal, Squilla stated, “There will have to be some type of legislation introduced in order for the proposal to move forward. That legislation would have to be introduced by me… I made a commitment that I would share that legislation with the community ahead of time, get feedback, and only if supported by the community would that legislation be able to move forward.”
Since then, the community has demonstrated that it does not support the construction of an arena one block away from Chinatown’s iconic archway.
More than 40 Chinatown organizations have formed the Chinatown Coalition to Oppose the Arena, and more than 40 organizations have joined the Save Chinatown Coalition. A March 2023 survey conducted by the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC) found overwhelming opposition to building the arena, with 92 percent of business owners, 94 percent of residents, and 95 percent of visitors expressing disapproval of the proposal. And a June 10 rally saw a turnout of over 3,000 people, all gathering to march in protest of the arena.
“You heard it directly from Councilman Squilla: he is the sole decision maker on the arena,” Reverend Wayne Lee said during today’s press conference. “Councilman Squilla has to introduce legislation for the arena to happen, and ‘only if supported by the community,’ would that legislation be able to move forward. We appreciate that commitment. It is very clear that the community doesn’t want it. Hold true to your word.”
For other speakers, the Sixers’ proposal is eerily similar to other “urban renewal” projects of the past—ones that had disastrous consequences for the populations they forced out.
“I grew up in the Black Bottom, and my community has already been displaced,” Walt Palmer said. Palmer grew up in Black Bottom, a historic Black community in West Philadelphia that was displaced by a collection of academic and medical institutions, including University of Pennsylvania.
“That is the future for Chinatown if Councilman Mark Squilla does the wrong thing,” he continued. “Councilman Squilla, if you do the wrong thing, the only thing you will be remembered for is being the politician who destroyed Philadelphia’s 150-year-old Chinatown, one of the last remaining Chinatowns in the whole country. Your legacy is on the line.”
Opponents of the proposal have also pointed out that the Sixers’ stated hopes of revitalizing the community are misguided, and community members agree. “This is an intrusive development, not inclusive community neighborhood development,” Reverend Robin Hynicka said at the conference. “It’s predatory, not participatory. It will last only for a day and will bring no central value, long-term value.”
On Wednesday, news broke that the Sixers’ would foot the bill for three new studies on the impact building an arena would have on the community. When asked about the impact studies, Co-Founder of Asian Americans United Debbie Wei expressed her frustration with the bad faith conditions of the impact studies and the process as a whole.
“On Monday… a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that it was the developers’ themselves that were doing these studies,” she said. “That there’s no parking and traffic study because they are using the developers’ parking and traffic study as the base template. That they are using a probe arena consultant for their economic analysis.”
“We don’t have faith in this process anymore,” she continued. “We’ve seen too much… Trust has been broken. It was up to the developers to win this community’s trust. It was up to the city to represent us, to represent its people, and now, that trust is broken as well.”
While the decision to continue or block the project lies in Squilla’s hands, the community is not willing to just sit around waiting, either.
“Our community has fought for 150 years to survive, and we have a tradition that we pass on to our young people,” Wei said. “You can see them right here now because we do this consciously. We are passing on a tradition of resistance, we are passing on the responsibility to fight for this community. We will continue the fight for this community. We fought for this community for 150 years; we will fight for 150 years more.”
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