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Rich Hofmann: Progress dictates the end of comfortable places like the Spectrum

THE ULTIMATE question - wrecking ball or dynamite? - has not yet been answered due to the Spectrum's proximity to the Broad Street Line, but the building is likely coming down next spring. They announced that much yesterday.

THE ULTIMATE question - wrecking ball or dynamite? - has not yet been answered due to the Spectrum's proximity to the Broad Street Line, but the building is likely coming down next spring. They announced that much yesterday.

A few goodbyes are being arranged before construction begins on the new hotel/entertainment complex planned for the site. The Phantoms will play their AHL season there before being dispatched to parts unknown (maybe Atlantic City, maybe Allentown, but maybe someplace farther away, out of the market). The Kixx could be back for another year if their indoor soccer league is somehow reconstituted.

The Flyers will play an exhibition game there, and the Sixers will play a regular-season game, and a few concerts are likely to be arranged. The Grateful Dead played dozens of shows at the Spectrum, but as Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko said, "It'll be tough to get Jerry [Garcia] back." You know, what with him being dead and all.

And Bruce Springsteen? "We're going to ask," Luukko said.

They will attempt to conjure a few memories. Few will cry, though. Most people haven't been in the Spectrum in years and years. They have long forgotten what they are missing.

"But it's emotional for me," said Ed Snider, the Comcast-Spectacor chairman, the man who birthed the Spectrum, built it, burped it and fixed it when the roof blew off.

"It's my baby," Snider said, in a phone interview. "It's probably the best thing I ever did. Financially, the Spectrum covered us through all the highs and lows so that we could do what we wanted to do."

The arena-management arm of his business came from the expertise gained there. PRISM, the now-gone pay-television gold mine, was produced out of a tiny, tiny space in the bowels of the building. And all of that allowed Snider to spend on the Flyers like few NHL teams spent.

Now, its time is almost done - and that is true whether or not a hotel ends up being a part of the new entertainment complex, Luukko and Snider said. In fact, Snider said the issue was really separate from the entertainment complex.

He said, "We're at a point with the Spectrum where a lot of money would have to be put into it, to bring it up to snuff with all of the modern technology. We couldn't justify the investment. It's had its day."

And what is being lost? In a word, intimacy. The Wachovia Center is big and comfortable and big and profitable and big. The Spectrum really does look like a tiny sardine can by comparison. A showplace in its day, it spoke a lot about what that day was like, and what sports were like.

The attendance capacity varied over the years - 17,007 for hockey, then 17,077, and bigger numbers for basketball, bigger numbers rarely attained. But the expectations were different. Fans then were more about the event itself and the communal experience, less about the concessions and the amenities.

"The tightness of the building, it's kind of funny, is what made it special at the time and what led to us having to build another arena because times change and you need the revenues in today's sports," Luukko said.

"But the building, because it was so tight, you, the office staff, the players, the doctors, the referees, the off-ice officials, the NBA officials, we all mingled together because we all came down that same hall.

"Everybody knew each other. It was easier at that time to be one big family. I was just thinking about my 16-year-old when he was about 5, he would come in with me in the afternoon and lay around on the couch [in the office] and then he would wander off and I'd be looking for him, and I'd be in the Flyers' locker room and Shjon Podein and Eric Lindros would be shooting tape balls at him.

"That doesn't happen in these big buildings because the offices are up here and the players' room is huge. The players go into that room, it's their space and rightfully so, where in the old days, people were taping sticks outside [in the hallway], everybody was just hanging out. It was real good. It was great for you [media] guys. I'll tell you, nobody could hide. You had to face the facts . . .

"I think it made all of us closer. All of us would be out in the hallway, waiting for the coach to come out."

It isn't like that anymore. Old arenas and new arenas serve the same basic functions - to host sporting events that make money. But the old ones were more about the sporting events and the new ones are more about the money. The old ones had quirks. The new ones have commerce.

And the loss of intimacy, well . . .

"You know, I never look back like that," Snider was saying. "I know what you're saying about the intimacy. But during the playoffs this year, [the Wachovia Center] sure seemed intimate to me.

"Obviously, there are different levels of that. The Palestra, that's intimate. I understand that. But this is progress, I think. I'm always looking forward to progress. I think the new building might be more exciting than the Spectrum, even if you give up a degree of intimacy.

"It's progress," he said. *

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