Embrace Debate: The Sixers' Big Move
Although the transition will not take place for nearly a decade, the Philadelphia 76ers are officially moving downtown. This has been a long-debated topic in the city, as storied sports franchises like the New York Knicks, Boston Red Sox, and Chicago Cubs continue to retain their special stadium atmospheres by laying directly in the middle of the action in their respective cities. Promising to bring increased revenue and foot traffic to the relatively deserted Fashion District area downtown, the move has received mixed responses from the Philly faithful.
The $1.3 billion “76 Place” arena proposal was revealed to the public this in the summer of 2022. The plan will be privately financed in its entirety by businessman and longtime Philadelphia real estate player, David Adelman. Adelman, a Philadelphia Sixers fan and friend to former minority owner, Michael Rubin, had been a part of a lengthy search for potential new arena sites. Rubin vacated his ownership position recently due to conflict of interest arising from his company Fanatics’ entrance into the sports gambling sphere.
But after witnessing the failure of the Fashion District Mall to live up to its full potential, it became clear that this was the right opportunity. Because so many shoppers now make their purchases online, the landscape of mall real estate has completely changed in recent years. The Fashion District struggles to draw shoppers into the city when they can just buy items from the comfort home. City officials hoped the mall would create a surge in visitors to the area, but the mall has not attracted crowds.
The desire to support Philadelphia’s Center City economy was a driving factor in this decision. The new arena will take over one of the mall’s existing three blocks, allowing for a natural revitalization to the other two blocks as part of a new approach to year-round activity. The hope is that the traffic will not be limited to game days, and that it will spur a new interest and energy in the area that carries throughout the year, encouraging more people to spend time and money in Center City.
This move may seem like a no-brainer for the city, yet community members have raised concerns. First, the arena will sit near Chinatown, a neighborhood known for its long history of tension between the locals and developers. Philadelphia locals are hesitant to any change that may jeopardize the preservation of their communities. About 20 years ago, a similar proposal for a new Phillies stadium fell apart in the face of hostility from Chinatown business owners and community leaders. The residents of the area are cautious over the potential consequences of ensuing gentrification, such as rising rent prices and an increased presence of outsiders in the community.
In addition to these concerns, Sixers fans have expressed fears of stadium accessibility. The 76ers’ current home, the Wells Fargo Center, has ample parking and is relatively easy to access, even for the biggest games of the year. Fans worry the Center City traffic and lack of parking will cause issues unforeseen to developers.
Many of these concerns, however, appear largely unfounded. The new arena will bolster support for the city’s public transit system, create thousands of jobs, and will have greater amenities than its predecessor. Additionally, because the project is privately funded, there is no need for public subsidy, a common concern with respect to stadium financing and development projects. The 76 Place arena presents a substantial opportunity to create a new model for reasonable, accountable development in Philadelphia, which will contribute to the growth of an already great city. Projects such as 76 Place will demonstrate what can be accomplished when developers listen and respect the community’s interests while simultaneously bringing life to an area of the city that desperately needs it.
The arena is not set to open until 2031, leaving years to iron out the wrinkles. At this point, conversations are purely speculative. However, time flies, and the next thing Philly knows, these questions will come to a head. So, it is time for developers to consider these realities now. They have reason to be optimistic, as do the naysayers. There is plenty of evidence to the benefits provided by the completion of similar projects for new downtown arenas, such as the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukie and the Chase Center in San Francisco.
Change can be scary, but it is necessary to keep up with the times. Sixers fans deserve an arena that does not stand in a largely unvisited part of town. Additionally, the community will benefit tremendously from the increased revenue in the area. Philadelphia is a city with a rich history, but that history should be honored in a way that recognizes the past and looks towards the future. 76 Place can provide that much needed energy and should be viewed as a major win for the city of Philadelphia. It is time for the City of Brotherly Live to stop looking to the past and begin the journey towards the future.
 Photo courtesy of Moselle, Aaron, and Sophia Schmidt. “A New Sixers Arena in Center City Is Not a Sure Shot.” WHYY, WHYY, 22 July 2022, https://whyy.org/articles/philadelphia-sixers-new-proposed-center-city-arena-reaction/  Newcomb, Tim. “Proposed Downtown Philadelphia 76ers Arena Aims to Reinvent Entertainment Area.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 4 Aug. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/timnewcomb/2022/08/02/proposed-downtown-philadelphia-76ers-arena-aims-to-reinvent-entertainment-area/?sh=387d53465ebc.  Id.  Id.  Levy, Jordan. “What to Know about David Adelman, the Billionaire Leading the Push to Build a Sixers Arena in Center City.” Billy Penn, Billy Penn, 14 Aug. 2022, https://billypenn.com/2022/08/06/david-adelman-sixers-arena-developer-campus-apartments/.  Pompey, Keith. “Michael Rubin Is Leaving His Sixers Ownership Role to Pursue Fanatics Business Ventures.” Https://Www.inquirer.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 23 June 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/sixers/michael-rubin-philadelphia-76ers-ownership-fanatics-20220622.html.  Reaves, David Gould and Greg. “New Sixers Arena Will Benefit All Philadelphians: Opinion.” Https://Www.inquirer.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 14 Sept. 2022, https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/sixers-arena-philadelphia-fashion-district-chinatown-20220914.html.  Moselle, Aaron, and Sophia Schmidt. “A New Sixers Arena in Center City Is Not a Sure Shot.” WHYY, WHYY, 22 July 2022, https://whyy.org/articles/philadelphia-sixers-new-proposed-center-city-arena-reaction/.  Id.  Id.  Reaves, supra.  Newcomb, supra.  Newcomb, supra.