Last month, the owners/partners of the Philadelphia 76ers, announced plans to build a “privately funded” arena that would be located in downtown Philadelphia, towards the Chinatown area. In the statement announcing this new arena, the owners and partners say the words “privately funded” about fifty times and do not stop talking about this arena being an “economic engine” for the city. An engine that would create up to 1,000 new jobs and $400 million in economic output! Please remember that when sports owners say “privately funded”, they mean substantially funded by local taxpayers. In this situation, the 76ers want substantial tax breaks and possibly city/state cash as well.
However, after getting pushback from people living in Chinatown, the city council decided not to move forward until an “independent report” was done on all aspects of the new arena. Still, some are already pointing out that this so-called independent plan was “neither independent nor comprehensive”. A local professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania told WHYY that the studies requested by the city do not go into any detail about whether the arena should be built or not. They are being rushed out as a way to figure out what “should be negotiated in a community benefits agreement”. One community planner smartly noted how questions were put into these so-called studies that just assume that a new arena is a given. For example: “How could the Sixers arena ensure the cultural vitality of local businesses is preserved?” or “What would the Sixers need to prioritize in the construction process to maximize benefits and mitigate negative impacts?”.
The 76ers own plan is also missing some important information. Like, Chinatown is already a busy place with a lot of traffic. What does the new arena plan say about this?
“The Sixers’ plan does not call for any additional parking. The team expects most fans to use public transportation, be dropped off by an Uber or taxi, or walk to the arena” – WHYY, 05/09/23
To be fair, the 76ers did commission a traffic study. But as a Temple professor notes, the plan vastly underestimates the number of people who will drive to the arena and does not account for random occurrences like “street work, double-parking, or medical emergencies”.
Lastly, the 76ers continue to release statement after statement about how great this new arena will be financially for the area. However, Metro Philadelphia wrote a fantastic article detailing the last time the 76ers said that a facility of theres would be a financial winner.
“Sitting in Camden, New Jersey, on the waterfront, the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex is a 125,000-square-foot steel and glass facility that houses a training center and the corporate offices of the Sixers. Constructed in 2016 with $82 million in tax credits from New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority and the Grow NJ program, the facility was touted as a catalyst for job placement in a city with a 43% poverty rate. These tax credits were meant to spur city growth and create jobs, adding money into the local economy while presumably improving the immediate area around the business’ location. Yet seven years later, the Philadelphia 76ers employed only 11 Camden residents out of its 275 employees” – Metro Philadelphia, 05/07/23
How could this happen? Because the 76ers were not required to hire Camden residents for the practice facility. This happens across the country. This site has written about instances where a sports team promises but does not deliver on hiring local workers. Why didn’t the city mandate this before giving out the taxpayer money? Because New Jersey’s Economic Development Authority did not require a community benefit agreement for the Camden project. Just looking into this deal is mind-boggling. For example, the deal required the creation of 250 jobs at the site, not including construction. So far, so good.
“However, 200 of those jobs represent current team employees, including players and coaches, all of whom will be transferred from the Sixers’ current front office, according to team CEO Scott O’Neil. The team will hire 50 new employees — mostly in sales and marketing” – NJ.com, 06/10/14
The team couldn’t even do that. They ended up hiring just 11 locals. At least the Mayor was correct in telling us that this move would have a “spill-over effect” in bringing new businesses to the area. Right? And what about the projected $76.6 million in “direct and indirect taxes” over the following 35 years due to “ancillary economic effects” of the relocation, such as possible retail and restaurant space that may open around the area?
“But the ancillary economic effects of the team’s relocation, including possible retail and restaurant space that may open around the area, have yet to be seen. Additionally, the promise of jobs to Camden residents still goes unfulfilled” – Metro Philadelphia, 05/07/23
A resident near the 76ers practice facility said it bluntly…“We don’t get nothing from them (76ers) being here”. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about this happening again since the 76ers have a community benefit agreement with the city to hire local residents. This time, they pinkie swear that they mean it.