On Tuesday night, the Sixers held their first of several upcoming Zoom meetings to showcase the downtown arena proposal and allow for community questions. It was held in a webinar format and hosted by David Gould, who currently serves as “Chief Diversity and Impact Officer” for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the Sixers’ ownership group.

I watched the first hour of the webinar before dropping off for the Union game, but Gould opened with a five-minute introduction before they played a 30-minute video going over the project in detail. They started by explaining why they want to leave South Philly and the Wells Fargo Center, and went into the history of the mall and all of that. They essentially packaged all of the existing project details into one single presentation, which seemed more or less comprehensive.

From there, Gould took Zoom questions and pinged some queries off other HBSE employees, answering a lot about parking, design, SEPTA, traffic, and whatnot.

What was most interesting was the first question, which essentially asked why this meeting was being held on Zoom and not in public. Gould explained that this was the best way to ensure a smooth session without distractions and other various obstacles, no doubt a reference to the December meeting in Chinatown where Gould was essentially shouted down by angry residents, which resulted in him leaving the building.

Soon after, the PR firm representing Chinatown sent this press release:

PHILADELPHIA—Today, Chinatown community members released the following statement following the first of a series of opaque virtual Zoom webinars held by developers pushing 76Place despite widespread community opposition.

Said Neeta Patel, interim executive director of Asian Americans United:

“This was more of an infomercial than a meeting. Zoom webinars are a poor excuse for real community engagement, and are not a format where the community feels seen, heard, or respected. That’s doubly true for Chinatown community members who are elderly, do not speak English, and struggle with technology. Virtual meetings where people are one step removed, not knowing what questions will be addressed or entertained, are not how you build trust and not at all how we do things in Chinatown, which is based on relationships, dialogue, and mutual respect.

“Not one of the three billionaire developers have ever participated in a single public meeting with the Chinatown community. Come to Chinatown and meet our community in public and in person. It’s basic respect.”

OPACITY AND FALSEHOODS IN 76PLACE VIRTUAL WEBINAR

The virtual webinar:

  • Hid submitted questions from public view
  • Did not allow participants to see each other
  • Did not include a chat function for dialogue or fact checking

Members of the development team also stated flat-out lies. When asked if the development team would share its traffic study with participants, Alex Kafenbaum, Head of Development for Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment, said the traffic study was not complete.

In fact, the developers’ traffic study was completed in November 2022, and obtained through a right to know request. It can be viewed here.

Okay, so let’s hit on some quick thoughts –

I personally believe that David Adelman and HBSE reps would benefit from another big meeting in Chinatown. However, it’s contingent on Chinatown to foster a respectful environment here, to avoid replication of December’s utter shit show. If Chinatown is going to demand that Sixers reps come speak to them in their community again, you cannot yell and scream and essentially boo them off the floor.

That’s why this meeting became a webinar. Because the Sixers don’t want to send someone into that environment again. They received a ton of negative publicity from that specific moment, which was covered in detail by the Inquirer and the local TV stations. If Chinatown wants transparency and face-to-face communication, they are absolutely entitled to that, but I also think they risk losing support among arena neutrals if they demand contact and then allow that meeting to once again devolve into a clusterfuck of shouting.

Again – my personal opinion in those last two paragraphs. If you’re a pragmatist and you believe in compromise, then everyone should be able to sit down at the table, like adults, and have a reasonable discussion.

One of Chinatown’s main complaints is that they don’t have enough information on the project, and they accuse the Sixers of working in secret, so they have a strategic decision to make here. Either you continue to completely oppose the project and hold fast in that regard, or make a good-faith effort to hear out Adelman and HBSE and hit a figurative “reset” button. The Sixers have gone on a recent press release blitz and moved the arena discussion forward with new information and renderings, so we’re at a much different project phase in August than we were eight months ago.