PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia City Council committee heard heated opposition Wednesday to what should have been a routine bill permitting the refinancing of a loan the city guaranteed nearly 40 years ago.
The bill to approve refinancing of a loan for a parking garage in the Fashion District contained a provision that the owner must agree to the closing of Filbert Street, next to the garage. The Chinatown community — on high alert for any arena-related legislation — jumped on that detail, assuming it was put in the bill on behalf of the arena developers.
More than a dozen speakers signed up to testify, prompting the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Mark Squilla, to withdraw the provision — a fact he repeated often throughout the hearing.
“There was no arena legislation being introduced in that section, but we did remove that section because of some of the concerns we heard,” he said.
That did not discourage the opponents. Chinatown resident Ellen Somekawa says she felt betrayed.
“Rather than standing up with the people of Chinatown to defend our priceless community against these predators, people who are elected to serve us seem to be conspiring with the developers to grease the wheels for the approvals they need,” she said.
It’s still unclear how the stipulation got into the bill. Squilla says it was a Kenney administration bill but the mayor’s office says flatly that it was not – claiming that Squilla’s office added the language.
Others like Coleen Young say the bill could be a secretive back-door deal to facilitate the groundwork for the arena. Speaker Xu Lin believes developers are trying to buy their way into the Chinatown community.
Councilman Squilla says he believes there had been a misunderstanding.
“For clarity again, I know everybody’s testifying on that but this does not have anything to do with the arena,” he said.
The bill did eventually pass but the hearing left no doubt about the level of distrust and ill will the Chinatown community feels for the arena and its proponents.
Councilman Mark Squilla says it turns out that neither he nor the administration put the provision in the bill. In a statement emailed Wednesday evening, Squilla says an outside attorney, who was working with the administration on the bill, added the provision.
The Chinatown community is likely to continue to press the issue as a sign of the developer’s bad faith. The developer did not respond to a request for comment. More fallout is expected in the coming days.