Nonprofits, advocates form Chinatown Coalition to oppose new Sixers arena
Made up of over 40 different organizations, they’re also backed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national civil rights firm.
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When the Philadelphia 76ers announced their proposal of a new arena last July, they were immediately met with anger and backlash from the community, especially in Chinatown where the supposed new arena would be built, in the heart of the community.
In the time since the announcement, residents, business owners, and advocates have been fighting the prospects of having such a project be built in their own backyard, completely changing the neighborhood and what it has meant for the many living, and working there.
It has resulted in a one-page petition that has garnered over 90 signatures from small business owners in the neighborhood, where over 120 exist, as well as a coalition formed to oppose the $1.3 billion project and protect the over 150 year-old neighborhood.
On Monday, Jan. 9, community members announced the creation of the Chinatown Coalition at Tom’s Dim Sum restaurant in Chinatown, which also has strong legal backing from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national firm that’s previously fought similar fights in other east coast cities since the mid-1970s.
Organizations involved with the coalition include the Pennsylvania United Chinese Coalition, Philadelphia Chinatown Dragon Boat Team, Asian Americans United, Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School, Chinese Restaurant Association of Greater Philadelphia
Concerned Citizens of Chinatown Association, Philadelphia Suns, and Asian Arts Initiative.
“It’s important for people to stand up and voice out,” said Steven Zhu, head of the Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association. “There are people understanding how the issue is so serious, that this is something that will destroy Chinatown.”
This is not the first time Chinatown has had to battle for their turf. They have previously fought off other developments from being done in their community, including a new Phillies stadium back in 2000 at 12th and Vine Streets and a casino.
The 76 Place at Market East would take over a piece of the Fashion District and be less than 10 feet from the first few businesses. Business owners have brought up concerns about the traffic nightmare that could ensue during home games that as a result will cause locals and others to avoid Chinatown altogether, effects on local businesses, attendees opting to go for concessions instead of what the community offers, parking, and public safety.
The 76ers have not backed away from the controversy but rather, engaged with the affected communities, the coalition and its advocates.
The 76ers development team have met with community groups representing Chinatown and its neighboring communities over 30 times since the announcement.
And according to part-owner David Adelman, talks have been positive, saying that for those he has presented the idea fully to, the reception has been “neutral to positive.” He hopes this will lead to a community benefits agreement to be agreed upon in the near future.
People are really receptive to what we’re looking to do,” said Adelman during a November press tour. “And the main reason is if we don’t do this and the mall goes bankrupt, someone
knocks it down, you could build three Liberty Place towers on those three blocks by right … and the community would get nothing.”
The agreement is expected to total up to over $50 million, and will ultimately be the key aspect of the deal that determines if it lives or dies.
The tens of millions would go to improving some of the concerns that local residents initially brought up, such as public safety, affordable housing, and supporting small businesses which would have a 30-year binding contract behind it.
The 76ers will want this to go through as they have plans to open the new arena by 2031, the same year their lease at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly will expire.
But more than anything for these residents, a community’s culture and history is at stake.
“If the culture disappears … their children and their grandchildren won’t be able to see it again,” said Wei Chen, a member of Asian Americans United.
This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations, focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.