Philadelphia planned arena cloud on Chinatown


Philadelphia 76ers arena update June 2023 Image: Philadelphia 76ers

The first drawings for Philadelphia’s (US) potential new arena, designed by Gensler, were released recently. The reports shows the potential designs, as well as planning, economic and the cultural impacts for the potential ground-up arena amidst fears from the neighborhood that the arena will spell the destruction of Chinatown (neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania).

‘The Architect’s Newspaper’ stated that plans for the arena faced harsh feedback from the local residents long before any designs were released, and were a point of contention in the City’s Mayoral election.

San Francisco (US)-based Gensler is a global architecture, design and planning firm with 53 locations and more than 7,000 professionals networked across the Americas, Europe, Greater China, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East. Founded in 1965, the firm works globally with more than 4,000 clients across more than 29 practise areas spanning the work, lifestyle, community, and health sectors.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) team Philadelphia 76ers currently play at the Wells Fargo Center in the City’s Sports Complex, which also hosts the National Hockey League (NHL) team Philadelphia Flyers, and other events like concerts. The Sports Complex, at the Southern end of the Broad Street, hosts the City’s four major sports teams amid a sea of parking lots.

Philadelphia 76ers arena update June 2023Image: Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers, colloquially known as the Sixers, is an American professional basketball team based in the Philadelphia metropolitan area (US). The 76ers compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference Atlantic Division and play at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a professional ice hockey team based in Philadelphia (US). The Flyers compete in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Metropolitan Division in the Eastern Conference. The Wells Fargo Center serves as their residence.

The 21,000-capacity Wells Fargo Center is a multipurpose indoor arena located in Philadelphia, US. It serves as the home of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League (NHL), the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League.

76 Devcorp, the developer behind the project (which is owned by two 76ers Managing Partners), has voiced that the 76ers experience in the Wells Fargo Center has become inadequate. Citing what they believe as the City’s ability to host two large arenas and inadequate player training facilities at the Wells Fargo Center, the 76 Devcorp believes that a ground-up arena is the best solution.

Philadelphia 76ers arena update June 2023Image: Philadelphia 76ers

‘The Architect’s Newspaper’ further stated that the proposed arena is part of the larger plan 76 Place at Market East, which encompasses other neighborhood changes that would need to occur to ensure what the developers see as a successful arena. The Market East, directly East of the City Hall, is currently home to the Fashion District. The Fashion District, really just a glorified mall complex, opened in 2019 under the leadership of the business improvement district (BID) Center City District.

76 Devcorp’s plans propose to build over part of the mall on the blocks between the Market Street and Arch Street between 10th Street and 11th Street. Philadelphia’s Chinatown begins on Arch Street, and continues North, away from the arena. The Chinatown survived a 2001 plan to destroy large parts of it for a baseball stadium, but still reels from the effects of the segregating Vine Street Expressway. Given how the development of an arena in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown has reaped the cultural destruction of the neighborhood, residents have due cause to be skeptic of the 76ers’ plan.

The Chinatown in Philadelphia is a bustling showcase of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cultures and cuisines. Beyond the gilt-painted Friendship Gate are streets packed with restaurants and bars, including the famous speakeasy-style Hop Sing Laundromat. Eclectic shops sell items that range from hand-stretched noodles to colorful trinkets. The annual Chinese New Year celebrations feature lion dances and fireworks display.

The released drawings reiterate familiar pitches for economic growth near the Center City, and attempt to offer solutions for concerns largely centered on Chinatown and transportation. The plan aptly highlights business closings in the area and its private funding, which has been a point of contention in other recent stadium news.

Designs for the arena itself include ground-level retail that would be open even when it’s not gameday. The arena will also directly connect to the Jefferson Street Station – one of the City’s three main stations which offer connection to both subway and regional rail service. The Wells Fargo Center has only one nearby connection to the Broad Street Line.

Interior renderings feature wood paneled ceilings and a large atrium that is well integrated to multimodal transit connections. The stacked nature of the arena’s layout makes for synchrony with existing transit infrastructure and the constraints of Philadelphia’s grid system. When coupled with a more active street level that does not wall-off the arena, the plans would make for a better experience for the fans. Doubts over the plans are not in its formal aspects, but in who it would serve.

The plan boats shorter transit times for suburban fans who can use regional rail as opposed to driving, and argues that the existing parking garages proximate to the arena will be adequate (though one must question whether maintaining parking garage ubiquity in a City’s downtown is a sound zoning approach). The plan also addresses concerns over gridlocked street traffic on gamedays, and suggests the hiring of more pedestrian and traffic police officers.

To directly address the impact on Chinatown, the development includes a $50 million plan for a Community Benefits Agreement. This includes supporting a community land trust, funding legal support for tenants, investment in affordable housing, hiring local suppliers for the arena, investing in grant and loan programs for the local businesses, and supporting the local arts programs. Although this list is extensive, and to be clear, a plan, not a guarantee, it does not address the fact that most Chinatown residents are vehemently opposed to the plan.

A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) in the United States is a contract signed by the community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community or neighborhood. In exchange, the community groups agree to publicly support the project, or at least not oppose it. Often, negotiating a CBA relies heavily upon the formation of a multi-issue, broad-based community coalition including community, environmental, faith-based, and labor organizations.

Concerns over drunken fans in the neighborhood, gentrification, shady politicking, and a lack input from the local residents, have shrouded plans for the project in a way that no PDF can resolve.

The 76ers have a series of public meetings scheduled in locations across the City throughout the summer. While none are planned to take place in Chinatown, the team has evidently not ruled that out.

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