Sixers attempt to sway Philly Chinatown executives to accept new sports arena

On Sunday, Sixers general manager Tad Brown, developer David Adelman and other team leaders stepped up their efforts to promote Sixers’ professional basketball team project to a wider audience in Chinatown. over $1 billion, privately funded. arena offered in the East Market section of town.

They presented the arena, first announced in July, to more than 200 members of cultural, business and immigrant societies‚ part of the umbrella group United Chinese Community Organization of Philadelphia, during a presentation of an hour in the banquet hall of the Ocean City restaurant on North Ninth Street. .

Facing community leaders who say they’re open-minded about the project as long as they’re confident the Sixers address their concerns, project officials have invited public comment but provided few detailed responses.

“It’s extremely important that we have the opportunity to listen and learn, and understand how we can work with the community to secure what we believe is a very important opportunity for the city of Philadelphia,” said Brown to groups.

The 18,500-seat arena at 11th and Market would serve as the anchor for a new entertainment district dotted with restaurants, bars, shops and, eventually, apartment towers. Its supporters pledged on Sunday to hear and address neighbors’ safety, affordability and traffic concerns, and said the arena would replace a declining commercial area and bus station by 2031.

The Sixers leaders’ remarks were translated into Mandarin — and sometimes Cantonese, for older participants in the southern China region — by Holly Meng, a Temple University official and traveling founder and leader of a series of ‘sino-american organizations, which as the group’s external secretary serves as spokesperson.

“Everyone is concerned about Chinatown’s safety,” Tian Zhang, the owner of the laundry and building owner as the group’s general secretary this year, told the groups, who gathered over fried chicken , vegetable rolls, pork buns and other platters around two dozen tables.

“With the news coming out about this, all businesses and residents are really worried – what is the effect on traffic, safety, businesses and residents?” Zhang added. He said he appreciated the 76ers’ willingness to answer questions and urged the crowd to remain “calm and peaceful.”

Sixers executives said they were still working on a promised analysis of how the arena would affect the neighborhood and the exact steps they would take to avoid the kind of neighborhood clash Adelman said had been all too common in developments. past majors.

Along Ninth Street, one block east of the meeting, retail businesses displayed signs in Chinese under the banner, written in English, “No Arena.” Meng said supporters of United Asian Americans, a public school advocacy group funded by foundations and corporations whose founders opposed the arena, also attended the meeting.

Community leaders say PCCOU is one of many organizations — including the Chinatown Business Association, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. and the Chinese Benevolent Association – whose leaders are forming a “steering committee” to receive the Sixers’ proposed community benefits deal. They expect this will direct up to $50 million over a multi-year period toward public safety, funding for early housing projects, traffic and other initiatives to mitigate the negative impacts of the arena.

The city’s union leaders and some businessmen welcomed the project as an engine of job creation; some hailed it as useful competition for current arenas in the area, where event ticket prices have risen.

The Sixers hope to complete the benefits agreement before this spring, so the city council can vote on zoning approval for the project and to renouncer a block from Filbert Street to the arena, according to people familiar with discussions between the groups.

Adelman and David Gould, the Sixers’ director of diversity and inclusion, acknowledged what Adelman called the “terrible” history of highway construction and public works projects that demolished parts of Chinatown over the past decades, sometimes after promises he says the developers haven’t kept.

But Adelman pitted the project against the low-key purchase and demolition that reduced Washington, DC’s former Chinatown to a former sports stadium. He said the Sixers intended to be open about their moves and weren’t moving small businesses or apartments, but a once-bustling and declining Philadelphia shopping district and bus terminal that had already lost its lease. .

The Sixers briefly argued for a new arena: the aging Wells Fargo Center must be replaced by 2031, when they plan to complete the new arena; the site is admirably suited to public transit, with suburban and South Jersey rail lines converging there, as well as the city’s subway and bus service.

In a nod to concerns that parking in the arena will displace drivers shopping in Chinatown and inconvenience car owners in the neighborhood, Adelman said the team has made arrangements with dozens of garages. neighborhood parking lots to validate fan parking, so they don’t compete for sidewalk space – a major concern of Steven Zhu, who heads the Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association.

Adelman said games would start at 7:15 p.m., after commuters left city offices.

Gould said the $1.9 billion project will generate sustainable jobs after construction is complete in 2031. He pledged measures to “preserve and promote affordability, create a clean and safe environment, minimize impacts from construction and congestion”, and preserve “Chinatown’s cultural identity and sustainability”. .” He added that space will be set aside in the arena building “for Chinatown businesses” and added that the Sixers plan to promote other Chinatown businesses to fans.

And to those concerned that crime and litter will proliferate, Adelman said he expects a bustling new arena to attract new tenants to vacant Market Street properties, and promised a ” safety and robust cleanliness”.

There were a handful of questions. “The arrival of the stadium in Chinatown will increase the value of buildings in Chinatown. Landowners will pass the cost on to the Chinatown community,” and it threatens “gentrification,” said Serena Chang, among a handful of young attendees who asked questions in English.

While the Sixers don’t offer to demolish buildings in Chinatown, large projects can tend to be expensive for current tenants, said Michael Zhang, who said he owns a small business and volunteers for community groups, and wanted Chinatown preserved so his children could enjoy it. this.

“Our goal here is to share information. Not to ask for your blessing” or demand immediate decisions, but to give you “real information” to decide its impact, said developer Adelman, who runs the project in partnership with billionaire Sixers managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer. . “We know we have a lot of work to do before we come to the community with a [full] proposal.”

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