During mayoral debates and forums, most candidates for Philadelphia mayor are well prepared to answer questions related to crime, poverty, or what they would do on Day One. But the more controversial subjects – like those about a proposed Sixers arena complex that would straddle the city’s Market East and Chinatown neighborhoods – seem to elicit rather squishy answers. Each candidate has been asked at least once – including by yours truly – about their stance on such a project. Their answers, such as they were, run the gamut, from soft support to skepticism to totally undecided.
The proposed venue would abut Chinatown’s southern border, sitting partially in the footprint of the Fashion District mall, a place where you can often find more of a police presence than actual patrons. Major stakeholders in Chinatown are strongly opposed to the project, warning that it would imperil the neighborhood’s future and cripple business development, raise rents and worsen traffic problems.
For others, the Sixers are dangling a tasty carrot: The proposed arena complex, known as 76 Place, would reportedly create 9,000 new construction jobs, many of them slated for minority- and women-owned business enterprises. The developers assert they would enter into a community benefits agreement that would offer $50 million in private capital for the benefit of the neighborhoods surrounding the development. As part of their pitch, they claim to have the only viable public safety plan for if/when the Fashion District is shuttered – a move that would create blocks of vacant storefronts.
The Philadelphia Building Trades and Carpenters unions support the proposal, calling it a “rare opportunity,” and one not to be missed. Last month, Philadelphia’s Black clergy were joined by members of the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE to publicly endorse the project, citing the potential job creation. And last year, City Councilmember Mark Squilla, who represents the district which encompasses Market East and Chinatown, introduced a bill dealing with parking garages that could pave the way for the arena to move forward.
Any conversations taking place about how to revitalize Market East need to involve Chinatown’s residents, business owners and advocates. That’s why whoever wins the Democratic nomination this May should give serious consideration as to how best proceed with a developer that is making big promises to seemingly everybody. But as a great man once said, “Trust the process.”