Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Major Chinatown business and community group announces its opposition to planned Sixers arena

Surveys found more than 90% of business owners, residents, and visitors oppose the project.

Harry Leong, center at the microphone, President of the Philadelphia Suns, a volunteer-led, youth organization that focuses on community building, he was born and raised in Chinatown, is shown here speaking at a press conference called in opposition to the Sixers arena on Monday, January 9, 2023, at Tom's Dim Sum, in Philadelphia.
Harry Leong, center at the microphone, President of the Philadelphia Suns, a volunteer-led, youth organization that focuses on community building, he was born and raised in Chinatown, is shown here speaking at a press conference called in opposition to the Sixers arena on Monday, January 9, 2023, at Tom's Dim Sum, in Philadelphia.Read moreJessica Griffin / Staff Photographer

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., a major business-leadership nonprofit, on Thursday announced its formal opposition to the construction of a $1.3 billion 76ers arena on the neighborhood’s southern edge.

The decision registers a strong nay from a deeply rooted, nearly 60-year-old community-development organization that many had initially thought might be receptive to the proposal.

“The arena deeply imperils the future of Chinatown,” PCDC said in a statement.

The team said it will continue to move ahead with plans to create and privately pay for what it says will be a majestic new venue at 10th and Market Streets in Center City. The Sixers recently pushed their self-set deadline for obtaining city government approvals from June to the fall.

“The arena deeply imperils the future of Chinatown.”

Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp. statement

PCDC said its surveys found overwhelming opposition to the project, countering the team’s assertion that many people in the neighborhood were quietly open-minded and willing to hear more information. PCDC found that 93% of business owners, 94% of residents, and 95% of visitors oppose the arena.

The announcement “reinforces that PCDC is the protector of Chinatown. We always have been and we always will be,” said executive director John Chin, who added that, to this point, the agency has done a poor job of communicating its position and work around plans for the arena.

“It’s disappointing,” the Sixers’ developing partnership, 76 Devcorp, said in a statement, “when Market East is in the midst of economic decline and after our attempts to work with PCDC, that they would reach this decision without seeing our official proposal. ... We remain committed to developing this project in a way that protects the city we love and benefits all of Philadelphia.”

The 76 Devcorp entity is a partnership between Sixers managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer and Philadelphia developer and part-team owner David Adelman.

The statement reiterated that the team’s proposal includes a $50 million community benefit agreement for arena neighbors — critics note that’s about 4% of the project’s value — and said more people are speaking up for the project. That includes the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, which recently endorsed the arena.

The PCDC announcement comes as yet another advocacy group, this one made up of about two dozen restaurants around the city, has organized against the team’s proposal.

“It’s up to us to take a stand and say, Hey, we as citizens should have a say as to how the city is developed,” said Tess Wei of RICE, the Restaurant Industry for Chinatown’s Existence.

RICE joins the Chinatown Coalition to Oppose the Arena, Save Chinatown, No Arena in Chinatown Solidarity, and Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, which includes students at the University of Pennsylvania and Bryn Mawr College.

The Sixers describe the project as a giant win for the city, saying a downtown arena would move Philadelphia into the future while driving foot traffic, business, and spending in a downtrodden stretch of the Market East corridor, which reaches from City Hall to Independence Mall. They say they can build and operate an arena without harming Chinatown.

The Sixers are unhappy at the Wells Fargo Center, in South Philadelphia, where they have played since 1996. There, the team is a tenant in a building owned by Comcast Spectacor, which also owns the Flyers. Owning their own arena would allow the Sixers to set their own schedule, dictate the use of the space, and capture virtually all the spending that would go on in and around the venue.

But the team having its own arena would come at the expense of the historic neighborhood of color it borders, community members say.

PCDC said its coalition of community organizations collected more than 230 language-accessible surveys and conducted three meetings with Chinatown business owners, residents and patrons. Respondents said they feared an arena would degrade Chinatown’s culture, create traffic and parking problems, and cause people to be displaced by rising rents.

The agency cited the construction of the Capital One Arena in Washington, built about the same time as the Wells Fargo Center, in the degradation of that city’s Chinatown which has been a rallying cry for community members for months.

“In D.C., the area will never return to what the community was,” said PCDC board member Harry Leong, who is president of the Chinatown basketball team the Philadelphia Suns. “It basically transformed that community to where it’s not even a cultural center at this point. It’s a shell of itself.”

The Sixers have maintained that many people in Chinatown, the heart of the region’s Asian community and the neighborhood that would be most affected, are willing to hear more about the plans. That view contrasts with the “No Arena” posters plastered on buildings, and with events like the one in December, where more than 200 people rained boos, shouts, and catcalls upon a 76ers representative during a meeting at Ocean Harbor restaurant.

» READ MORE: Chinatown residents loudly denounce Sixers arena proposal at contentious meeting

The team plans to move into a new arena when its lease expires at the Wells Fargo Center in 2031 — and says the eight-year timeline is deliberate, to allow for neighbors to help craft additions and alterations to the proposal. The team says it’s continuing to listen to the Chinatown community, and to work on local-impact studies that will be part of its ultimate plan.

The Sixers announced their intention to create a new arena eight months ago. The arena would touch Chinatown at Cuthbert Street, where the bus station is to be demolished. The first Chinatown business would six feet away. Yet despite neighborhood opposition, the Sixers insist that Chinatown can benefit.

In a recent interview, David Gould, chief diversity and impact officer for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the team, said the Sixers are committed to exploring programs including housing assistance, street-cleaning, and special discounts that would encourage basketball fans to spend money in the neighborhood.

The Sixers may be able to partner with community groups to build new affordable housing. And to create a fund to provide rental and property-tax relief for businesses, landowners, or residents. It plans to invest in lighting, security cameras, and safety-patrol officers to increase public security, and might try to locate a city police substation in the arena, Gould said.

The Sixers also want to see if they could work with parking-lot operators, Gould said, to reserve and subsidize a certain number of spaces on game days. And they want to make sure that local businesses have a presence in the arena. Maybe Chinatown restaurants could operate kiosks inside, or license some favorite dishes to another vendor, he said.

“They didn’t come with anything other than promises,” said Leong.

For months, he said, community members have departed team-outreach efforts feeling frustrated and patronized, without clear answers to difficult questions around parking, real-estate taxes, gentrification, and a potential greater demise of Chinatown and the authentic cultural space it provides for the Asian American community. People have asked for professional environmental and traffic studies, but none have been forthcoming, Leong said.

“So how could we support such a project?” he said.

Developer Adelman, who has promised to build what he says will be the finest basketball arena in the country, “may not have anticipated the strength or perseverance of the community,” Leong said. “Money can’t buy everything.”