76DevCo, a development partnership connected to the Philadelphia 76ers, has proposed building a new, privately funded arena on Market Street in Center City. The City of Philadelphia and its nonprofit economic development partner, PIDC, have been working to determine whether and how a new downtown arena could benefit all of Philadelphia.

These benefits must include: 

  • Protection for Chinatown: First and foremost, Philadelphia’s historic Chinatown must be protected. Chinatown continues to provide a supportive and thriving environment for the Asian American Pacific Islander community that is a fundamental part of the city’s cultural and economic fabric.   
  • More money for City services and schools: A new arena project must provide increased tax dollars for Philadelphia, the School District of Philadelphia, and the state.
  • Healthy South Philly sports complex: The current sports complex in South Philly must remain economically viable if the proposed arena is built in Center City. 
  • 30-year commitment: The 76ers must sign a legally binding agreement to remain in and play home games in Philadelphia for 30 years. 
  • Diverse workforce: 76DevCo must commit to building and operating the arena with a diverse workforce.

“Whenever a major private development project is proposed, the City looks closely at the proposal to understand the complications, challenges, and potential positive and negative impacts,” said Eleanor Sharpe, Interim Director of the Department of Planning and Development. “It is the City’s responsibility to make sure that the people of Philadelphia will benefit as much as possible if the project—in this case, an arena—becomes a reality. Figuring this out is what we mean by ‘due diligence’.”

The City’s due diligence included opening lines of communication with 76DevCo to learn everything it could about the specifics of the arena proposal. The City and PIDC also discussed the proposed arena with community members and heard especially strong objections from Chinatown representatives. 

The City hired expert consultants to best understand and assess the proposed arena’s impact. PIDC managed the request for proposals (RFP) process for selecting consultants and incorporated input from the community to specify what the consultants have been asked to accomplish. 

City hires diverse team of experts to conduct a community impact assessment 

At various points in Chinatown’s history, City government has supported, proposed, and even carried out nearby development projects without taking into account the significance of the Chinatown neighborhood and the perspective of its community. Today, however, the City recognizes these past failures, prioritizes Chinatown’s well-being, and is committed to truly listening to and learning from the community. 

That is why the City has hired experts at BJH Advisors, Sojourner Consulting, and AKRF to assess the potential impacts on neighboring communities that would result if the arena were built. For several months the consultants have actively engaged with groups and individuals in Chinatown and other neighborhoods close to the proposed arena site. In collaboration with community members, they developed a project framework of key questions. Based on this framework, they are researching multiple data sources for demographic, socioeconomic, real estate, historical, and other information. They have hosted 18 focus groups, conducted over 20 interviews, and collected over 400 surveys. With an explicit focus on engaging English Language Learners, bilingual team members have conducted conversations in three dialects of Chinese, Spanish, and English. They are continuing their outreach to residents, workers, organizations and small business owners to gather the facts they need to assess the various areas the arena would impact if built.  

City obtains assistance of economic impact, traffic, and arena design consultants 

In addition to the community impact assessment, the City has hired firms to analyze other crucial aspects of the proposal.

  • Economic impact: CSL is a national firm that has provided financial analysis on more than a dozen professional sports arenas. CSL is working with the City’s Finance office to calculate construction costs, projected taxes associated with construction and operations, other revenues and expenses, financial feasibility, and capacity of Philadelphia to support two professional sports arenas.
  • Traffic: The engineering firm JMT has assisted the City’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS) and the City’s Streets Department with many projects over the last several years. JMT and the City, along with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) and SEPTA, are working together to evaluate the impact the arena would have on traffic, public transportation, parking, and pedestrians.
  • Design: The team of Convergence Design, LLC, national experts on arena design, and Philadelphia architects and planners Ian Smith Design Group is providing on-call support to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission. The consultants are focusing on how aspects of the proposed design would affect the public and public spaces. These include the facade, entrances, access to retail, pedestrian experience, crowd circulation, and impact on Jefferson Station, which is located beneath the proposed arena site. 

Other due diligence efforts are underway

This work includes: 

  • Determining how multiple parcels of land could be pulled together for the arena if the project moves forward. These arrangements would likely mirror those used for Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field, except that the arena proposal includes no public financing.
  • Holding ongoing discussions with 76DevCo to explore and reach agreement on legal and financial matters and drafting the related legal documents.
  • Identifying reviews, permits, approvals, and ordinances that would be required if the arena were to be built.
  • Providing feedback on drafts of City Council bills.

Community members and professionals provided feedback at Master Plan Civic Design Review meeting

At the request of City Councilmember Mark Squilla (1st Council District), the Philadelphia City Planning Commission held a Master Plan Civic Design Review (CDR) meeting for the proposed arena to give the public and design professionals on the CDR Committee an opportunity to provide input and recommendations.

The public meeting was held virtually on Zoom on Monday, December 18, 2023. Presenters spoke in English which was simultaneously interpreted in Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

CDR focuses on the aspects of a project that are visible to and accessible by the public. Topics discussed at CDR for Master Plans include movement of pedestrians, traffic, and public transportation in and around the project site; locations for loading and unloading; public access; open spaces; and the overall size, shape, and location of the building or buildings on the site.

At the CDR meeting, the developers presented their proposal. The executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), a Registered Community Organization (RCO), shared feedback from members of the public that PCDC had compiled. This was followed by several hours of additional comment from the public. The CDR Committee discussed the proposal and recommended improvements to the developers. The Committee is advisory, and its recommendations are optional. Finally, the Committee voted unanimously to bring the developers back at a later date for another CDR meeting. At the additional meeting the developers will be asked to explain any design changes they make in response to the recommendations and community feedback.

Recordings of the Master Plan CDR meeting, in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese, are available on the Planning Commission’s Public Meetings page.

Next steps

Due diligence efforts by the City, PIDC, and consultant teams are still underway. The City’s community and economic impact consultants are expected to submit reports on their findings in 2024. It is important to note that any final reports will not lay out recommendations but will present what results and conditions are likely to occur with, and without, the proposed arena. 

Ongoing updates will be posted on the Department of Planning and Development’s web page.