Last summer, the Philadelphia 76ers announced that they were going to try to build a brand-new $1.3 billion dollar arena in the Chinatown district of Philadelphia. This comes after the city spent roughly $250 million on the arena in 2018. Even though the team continues to publicly assert that the arena will be “privately funded”, nobody has seen a contract which proves it. As Field Of Schemes reminds us, two years ago, the 76ers owners claimed that they would “privately fund” a business development, while also wanting almost $750 million in tax breaks and incentives. Consequently, the public was, in fact, paying a lot for the project and the project was terminated.
However, almost everyone in the Chinatown district seems to be very much against letting the NBA team take over their area. When the neighborhood group, Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corp., met with residents of the area, the numbers speak for themselves as “93% of business owners, 94% of residents and 95% of Chinatown visitors oppose the arena”. The developer of this project, claimed that this project would provide the area with “a much-needed infusion of commercial development” and that the current land was “stagnant” and “underutilized”. Better yet, 76 Devcorp claims that their Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) “could reach $50 million”.
Over the last year, both the developers and 76ers have consistently talked about holding themselves “accountable by creating a formal (CBA) that will invest millions into the community”. Yet to this day, we have not seen a single document about this imaginary CBA. When people began to poke the expansive holes in the developers promise of economic glory, 76 Devcorp seemed annoyed that people weren’t believing them. They whined about misinformation campaigns and how this project would create jobs, revitalize the area, make the city safer and likely bring back Jesus Christ.
Then today, I found a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about a lobbying firm being fined for illegally promoting the 76ers plan to city officials when they hadn’t filed the proper disclosure reports necessary. Anyone want to guess who?
“CBL Real Estate, which a spokesperson said is the lobbying arm of the team’s development company 76 Devcorp, agreed to a settlement with the board in which it admitted to making omissions in two city lobbying reports from 2022” – Philadelphia Inquirer, 06/06/23
Now, the filing shows lobby meetings with the mayor and council president about the “Sports Arena”. Must have forgotten about that.
I feel bad for the poor people in Chinatown. As the Inquirer noted in their story about the lobbying group fine, they also note how this is but “the latest in a string of City Hall controversies caused by the team’s ambitions to build (the arena)”. Although one would think that a city government is working for the people, residents in Philadelphia are having to look really hard to see if anything is missing. Did the city government try again to secretly put in language, without anyone knowing, that would have started construction of the arena? Or maybe the team will continue to give $500,000 to select mayoral candidates who favor the new arena?
Even today, the public has little information about who really is funding groups that support the new arena in Philadelphia. I doubt we will find out before a decision on the arena is made. Like what happened in Buffalo. It was only after the stadium agreement was made that we found out about the lobbying done for the Bills by the husband of the New York Governor. The Washington Commanders have spent many millions across several groups that lobby DC, Virginia, and Maryland whenever the team needs it. Who cares that the Charlotte Panthers owner donated to the same candidates who just gave him over $100 million in taxpayer funds?