Comcast Spectacor will resume on Monday its $300 million renovation of the Wells Fargo Center, a project that was stalled for more than a year by the COVID-19 pandemic and that could affect the long-term relationship between the company and one of the arena’s primary tenants: the 76ers.
The renovation, which began in 2016, is still $100 million away from completion, according to Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Flyers and rents the center to the Sixers. Installation of new and improved guest seating in the arena’s club level is expected to be finished this fall, and additional changes – an upgrade of the exterior facade, remodeled and updated entrances, a greater variety of food and beverage vendors – will begin next summer.
“We’re a local company, and we take pride in our sports teams and our arena,” Valerie Camillo, the center’s president of business operations, said in a phone interview Friday. “We want to invest, to give the best fans in sports what they deserve, and that’s the best experience in sports with the best arena.”
Camillo said that Comcast Spectacor is the sole source of funding for the project. “There are no public monies of any kind,” she said. “There are a lot of needs in Philadelphia, and quite frankly, we don’t think it’s reasonable that we would expect public money to help deliver that.”
It was natural to interpret Camillo’s words as a salvo in the public-relations tug-of-war between Comcast Spectacor and the Sixers, whose plans for a taxpayer-funded arena of their own, at Penn’s Landing, were revealed last August.
Comcast Spectacor sold the Sixers to Joshua Harris, the founder of Apollo Global Management, and his partners in Harris & Blitzer Sports & Entertainment in 2011, and the team’s lease at the Wells Fargo Center expires in 2031.
Harris and the Sixers’ ownership group want their own arena for a host of reasons, according to an Aug. 28 Inquirer report. Those reasons include additional revenue streams, priority in scheduling the team’s games, and concerns about how much the Wells Fargo Center’s condition will deteriorate between now and the end of the lease.
“Comcast Spectacor is a great, long-standing partner of the 76ers, and we’re excited by their continued commitment to delivering a world-class arena experience,” a Sixers spokesperson said via email. “We have a lease with our partners at Comcast Spectacor for another decade. We will continue to explore all options in Philadelphia for when our lease expires in 2031, with a focus on delivering the best experience for our fans.”
When asked whether the renovations were in any way intended as a carrot for the Sixers, Camillo said: “We’re not thinking about our transformation in terms of enticing the Sixers to stay. We’re thinking about it in terms of every guest who comes into the building, and the Sixers are certainly part of that. But we also host Flyers games, concerts, family events, shows. This is an investment in the city, in the community, in the stadium district. We want to provide the city of Philadelphia a world-class arena.
“Look, I don’t want to get into speculation about how the Sixers think about this,” she added. “The Sixers know we want them to stay.”
The Wells Fargo Center opened in 1996, kickstarting a massive refurbishment of the South Philadelphia sports complex that continued with the building of Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park and that led to the razing of Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum. Comcast Spectator owns the development rights for the land next to the center, “and we have exciting plans for that,” Camillo said. “In the next several months, we’re going to have exciting announcements to come there, too.”
That declaration seemed a direct counter to the argument or perception – one that the Sixers have promoted merely by the nature of their plans, one that existed in the early 2000s, when the Phillies were weighing where to build Citizens Bank Park – that a downtown arena would be better for the city’s economy and civic life.
“The stadium district is such a unique urban-planning success story,” Camillo said. “It’s well-planned. It’s managed. It’s a significant, well-functioning, traffic-management plan – ingress and egress, everyone’s down here together. The partnership structure works very well between the teams. I would be hard-pressed to think that there’s anything better out there than what we have today.”