Community members and leaders are gearing up to oppose the construction of a Philadelphia 76ers stadium in Center City, a few steps away from Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
The proposed $1.3 billion project, which would occupy 10th and Market Streets, was met with strong opposition from the community of Chinatown, an area with a history of battling developers to preserve the site.
Thoai Nguyen, CEO of Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC), felt “absolute anger” after hearing about the basketball team’s arena earlier this week. He stressed that its construction, which could take years to complete, would cause air and noise pollution in the area.
“For most Philadelphians or tourists that visit Philadelphia, Chinatown is seen as this place where you go to eat and you go buy gifts,” Nguyen told WHYY. “What they don’t know, there are hundreds of families that live in the community.”
The 76 Place project will reportedly be headed by David Adelman, a real estate developer, through the newly created development company 76 Devcorp. The arena’s construction is set to begin in 2028 and will not open until 2031 when the basketball team’s lease at the Wells Fargo Center expires.
“The Philadelphia 76ers are a storied Philadelphia institution with a proven track record of investing in their community,” 76ers managing partner Josh Harris said in a statement. “That’s why we’re committed to building a world-class home in the heart of the city and creating a privately-funded arena that strengthens ties within the local community through investments that prioritize equity, inclusivity and accessibility.“
Groups such as Chinatown-based Asian Americans United said they were excluded from earlier talks and eventually heard about the project by word of mouth. The nonprofit organization held an emergency meeting on Wednesday, inviting 15 organizers, residents and business owners to a virtual gathering to discuss the project.
“It’s kind of like you’re taking over,” QT Vietnamese Sandwich employee Mya Son told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Once you gentrify Chinatown, it’s very hard to come back from that.”
President of the Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association and co-chairman of the Pennsylvania United Chinese Coalition, Steven Zhu, raised concerns about the population of Chinatown after the 76 Place project is completed, using the Capital One Arena as an example.
The Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., opened its doors in 1997, right around the time when the city’s Chinatown was already experiencing issues. The area had around 3,000 Chinese residents in 2010, but this number went down to 300 around two decades later, according to WAMU.
This is not the first time community members and leaders have banded together to oppose a massive project in or close to Philadelphia’s Chinatown.
In 2000, community members rallied to stop a proposed baseball stadium on 12th and Vine Streets. Eight years later, they joined arms again to oppose the proposed Foxwoods Casino project at The Gallery at Market East.
“This is not the first time that big developers proposed to build something without our input: the baseball stadium, the casino, to name a few,” Wei Chen, Asian Americans United’s civic engagement director, said in a press release. “We have defeated each one of them. We are ready to fight to protect our community.”
Despite the opposition from the community, 76 Devcorp reportedly started meeting with community stakeholders this week, including Councilmember Helen Gym and the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.
A spokesperson for 76 Devcorp told The Philadelphia Inquirer that they will need “to dedicate lots of time to discussions with different stakeholder groups to make sure all voices are heard.”
“We haven’t been able to speak with everyone yet, but the good news is that we are at the very beginning of the process and we are years away from anything potentially changing,” the company’s spokesperson said. “That gives us time to shape this project so it can be done the right way.”