PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After many back-and-forths with the Chinatown community, the Philadelphia 76ers and the developers of their prospective new arena, called 76 Place, met with the community face-to-face for the first time on Thursday.
“A quintessential David and Goliath fight” — that’s how longtime Chinatown resident Debbie Wei describes the stadium project. She and about 100 other community members and supporters convened Tuesday night in preparation for Thursday’s meeting, making sure everyone was informed about their fight against an arena being built in their neighborhood.
Wei has seen her fair share of fights against big development projects in or near Chinatown. The Sixers and 76 Place are just the latest in a long history that also includes a prospective Phillies stadium, a casino, an expressway and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“Philly’s Chinatown is one of the last remaining real vibrant Chinatowns in the United States because we have stood up,” said resident Ellen Somekawa.
Before this week, the Sixers had held five virtual meetings to engage the community about the arena, but those opposed to it said the feedback process lacked proper translation, and not every question got an answer.
“I want them to hear that this community is not for this and that it will destroy this community, and that it’s not something to be accepted,” said Father Joseph Wallace-Williams, who opposes the arena.
Resident Wei Chen, one of the organizers of the community meeting, stressed that the arena is not a done deal. He said past conversations with the Sixers made it seem like the community didn’t have an option.
“The whole conversation is more about … to force us to have an arena, but we know how much it is going to damage this community,” he said.
Part of the Sixers’ plans is to invest $50 million through a legally binding community benefits agreement (CBA) that could provide things like cleaning services, improved safety features and small business investment, but Chinatown has so far resisted signing on.
Councilmember Mark Squilla said the community signing the agreement is the key to getting the arena through City Council.
Debbie Wei said the community has one other thing that the Sixers don’t: “They may have the money, but we have the people. And the people will always win.”
The Sixers’ in-person meeting with community members was held on Thursday, Nov. 16 at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown.
A few people in attendance who opposed the arena found opportunities during the presentation to hold up signs. Security rushed to escort some of them out until Sixers co-owner David Adelman said they could stay.
Mary Yee with the Save Chinatown coalition says she has a few fears about the arena, including the impact on businesses and housing prices.
“It’s a long construction period, too," Yee said. "And the construction effects are sometimes worse than the construction itself because of the noise and pollution and the added traffic impacts.”
“We’re worried that that will impact the restaurant business, especially since the 76ers game times are during dinner hour.”
The results of impact studies commissioned by the city have not yet been released.