Fiery Chinatown meeting over Sixers arena proposal

ByNydia Han, Jaclyn Lee, and Heather Grubola WPVI logo
Thursday, December 15, 2022
Fiery Chinatown meeting over Sixers arena proposal
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It was standing room only in Chinatown Wednesday night as hundreds of residents demand answers about the proposed Philadelphia 76ers arena, and it got heated at times.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It was standing room only in Chinatown Wednesday night as hundreds of residents demand answers about the proposed Philadelphia 76ers arena, and it got heated at times.

"We believe that our community's voices need to be heard and this is the first of many opportunities where that's going to happen," said Mohan Seshadri, executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance (APIPA).

Organizers feel Chinatown residents have been cut out of the conversation, with closed-door, invite-only community meetings until now.

The proposed arena would be on Market Street between 10th and 11th streets, with developers demolishing a block of the Fashion District Mall.

"Chinatown will no longer exist and secondly, it's going to worsen traffic and it's gentrification," said canvasser Hao Wei. "It's going to bring up the price of everything. People will move out because they cannot afford the rent."

Developers say they are trying to be good corporate citizens, and if they don't buy the lot of land, other developers will and then do whatever they want with it without consulting with the community. The Sixers argue the arena will help the city.

"There is a lot of vacancy on that part of Market Street," said David Gould, Chief Diversity and Impact Officer of Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment. "The Fashion District is struggling financially and we think that this could be a good solution and bring more economic activities to that part of the city."

But organizers accuse developers of deception and not being transparent. They allege just last week that 76 DevCorp tried to sneak a clause into a City Council bill that would fast-track the arena by allowing changes to Filbert Street. On Wednesday, Councilman Mark Squilla addressed that.

"Any legislation will not be considered unless shared with the Chinatown community," said Squilla. "I make that commitment now and into the future."

The Chinatown Steering Committee has scheduled a series of town hall meetings regarding the 76ers arena proposals. It will serve as listening sessions to hear comments and concerns.

Convincing Chinatown won't be easy

While the proposed site sits on one of the busiest transit hubs and the developers promise to revitalize the area while keeping the preservation of Chinatown top of mind, convincing the community won't be easy.

"It's definitely going to impact Chinatown in a bad way," Suzi Lin of AAU, Asian Americans United, said.

Many in Chinatown agree.

Howland Cui is also a member of AAU, whose youth and founding members are working to preserve Chinatown and fighting against 76 Place.

When Cui was asked what Chinatown means to him he said, "It means a place where I can connect with friends and my culture."

"I come to Chinatown at least twice, maybe three times a week. I usually eat dinner here with my family or we go grocery shopping," said Celine To.

To and other AAU youth surveyed 700 people in Chinatown about Chinatown.

"And we found out that not a lot of people knew the borders of Chinatown," said To.

Or that the borders have been shrinking.

"They built the commuter tunnel, which kind of like cut Chinatown," To said.

"What people don't understand is that fighting for justice in this particular community is a tradition," said Debbie Wei.

Wei is a founding member of AAU and now passing on the tradition to the other youth, who say they're concerned an arena would cause issues from parking to pricing out the current community.

"Placing the 76ers stadium there would ruin a lot of the Chinese and local businesses here in Chinatown," said Cui.

"I know that it will not only bring it even more congestion, but it will, it won't be as safe as it was before," To said.

"I myself live in Chinatown and I have been in many other Chinatowns, especially in DC... and I've seen how the stadium has affected their Chinatown," said Lin.

Suzi is talking about what is now called Capitol One Arena. After it was built right in Washington DC's Chinatown, the community went from 3,000 residents to 300.

Action News caught up with Wei and others as they headed to Washington in September. Wei recalled Chinatown's long fight against the development, including a successful one against a new Phillies stadium in 2000.

"Then in 2008, when they announced the casino, we crossed out stadium, we put in Casino, and we had new T-shirts," she said. "Wearing this T-shirt, it gives me some degree of strength, some degree of hope."

Drawing parallels to Washington, DC

This week, Action News took Chinatown's latest concerns directly to 76 DevCorp's David Gould who promised to develop in a responsible and equitable way.

"We're putting forth a proposal that avoids all of the pitfalls of past development proposals, and really crafted in a way in partnership with stakeholders in the community that has the potential to be a net positive," he said.

"A lot of people are drawing parallels between Washington DC and Philadelphia," Action News' Nydia Han said to Gould.

"We want to learn from the mistakes that were made from a project like that. And make sure that this is the inverse of it, that this is actually something that uplifts and helps sustain the community as opposed to threatens it and shrinks it," he said.

"How is 76 Place different?" Han asked.

"Well, one is that we are not developing in the community. We're developing on Market Street so it's not a project that's in Chinatown," Gould said.

Gould also tells me 76 DevCorp is aware of and working to address other concerns.

"We are taking a very intentional approach to really learn from the community to figure out how do we put together a proposal that that could benefit the neighborhood," he said. "That could be building new affordable housing that could be different grant and loan programs for businesses. We will have a traffic and parking study and plan so we can show how we mitigate the potential negative impacts there."

76 Devcorp provided this fact sheet of what it calls misinformation. You can read it below: