15 Takeaways: Sixers Arena Meeting Mostly Straightforward Despite Some Protests and Pointless Grandstanding
The Sixers held a community meeting at the Sheraton on Thursday night to talk about the proposed Market Street arena project. It was a public session following a series of Zoom calls that took place over the summer.
Things got a little hairy with some protesters in the crowd, and there was a bit of Q/A goofiness later on, but the session was straightforward otherwise. Let’s summarize in a somewhat chronological order:
1) Union labor support was more than noticeable right off the bat. They had the truck driving around the Sheraton playing the Sixers theme song, a repeat of what happened happened at City Hall when council returned a few weeks ago. The crowd was filled with with workers wearing blue and white “Pro Jobs, Pro Union, Pro Arena” t-shirts. As you’re probably aware, the most significant arena support comes from organized Philly labor, which backed incoming mayor Cherelle Parker.
2) There were two translations for Chinatown community members. One was in Cantonese and the other in Mandarin. Chinatown representation looked to be somewhat small, and concentrated mostly in one corner of the ballroom.
3) A moderator opened the meeting requesting big boy and big girl behavior, aka no disruption, no booing, no jeering, no yelling, no shouting like the December, 2022 gathering in Chinatown, which saw David Gould and the Sixers delegation walk out the door. This was certainly an upgrade in the civility department.
4) 10 panelists were on the stage, among them: Tad Brown (HBSE CEO), David Adelman (Sixers co-owner), David Gould (Sixers Chief Diversity Officer), plus various traffic/engineering/development folks working in some capacity on the project. Adelman and Gould did the most talking.
5) Adelman started by reiterating a lot of what people already know. Why do they need a new arena? Because they want to control their own destiny, which means scheduling priority and having total input on design, i.e. gearing the arena towards basketball first, and not having to split with hockey and lacrosse. Adelman noted that the Sixers are the only local pro team (of the main 5) that doesn’t own their own arena.
6) He also shared some before and after shots of Market East that show a former commerce hub, occupied now by a failing mall. This picture may have been used before, but I don’t remember seeing it, so I’ll share it here:
7) There was a graphic noting that the proposed $50 million community benefits agreement could include: parking and traffic control, clean and safe services, rental and tax programs for residents and businesses, support for the promotion of local small businesses, economic opportunity for communities of color, and community programs and cultural preservation. These are generic thoughts and there hasn’t been a more narrowed explanation, yet, on how much of this specifically would go to Chinatown proper, vs. other neighboring communities.
8) Protesters started popping up about halfway through the meeting. No yelling or significant disruption, just several instances of banner unfurling that caused a distraction toward the back of the room. I got a clip here:
Some dissenting voices removed from the premises: pic.twitter.com/hj7CkiSnXP
— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) November 17, 2023
Adelman took the mic after the commotion died down, asking the folks with the signs to stick around and ask their questions. One person in the crowd yelled “save Chinatown,” and that was about it for 10 minutes, before Adelman asked security to stop removing protesters and let them stay.
“We’re not hiding,” Adelman said. “Ask us questions, it makes the project better.”
Protesters now just standing off to the side with their banners during the Q/A portion: pic.twitter.com/RT36NGBgOS
— Crossing Broad (@CrossingBroad) November 17, 2023
9) Biggest pop of the night came from all the union guys in the crowd, cheering the claim that the project will create 12,200 jobs and $400 million in annual employee compensation.
10) The first person at the microphone was a man who introduced himself as a Penn professor. He went on a minutes-long explanation of the history of displacement of communities of color in Philadelphia. The moderator had to cut him off and ask him to get to a question, but she did it politely. Adelman responded by reiterating that the project will not displace a single person, noting that it’s going to replace a failing mall instead. No eminent domain, nothing in the Chinatown limits, etc.
11) The second person at the mic went on her own screed about job creation before getting to a couple of questions. Same thing with question asker #4. If we’re being totally honest, the ranting did a disservice to everyone, because it junked up the question and answer process and resulted in a lot of meaningless grandstanding instead. Too many people at the mic were trying to prove some point or create some public display instead of having any kind of realistic dialogue.
12) A relatively-young looking Asian man named Josh thanked Adelman for allowing protesters back in, and asked about surrounding infrastructure improvements and how that will be funded. Good question!
Adelman (paraphrased) –
“Thank you for the question, let me talk about this – in the whole country right now, 99% of all arenas and stadiums receive a subsidy. We will be one of a handful in the country to not seek city money. The reason why we picked this location is because the infrastructure is already there. You have the largest subway station in the city, a mall consuming a huge amount of electricity, water, sewer – that already exists at the site. I will say it again, we will not take any city money, the infrastructure already exists there.”
(at this point someone yells about state and federal money)
Adelman (again paraphrased) –
“We have said consistently we don’t need state or federal money to make this happen. That said, if there is an incentive from the federal government, solar power or (something similar), we might look at it. But like I said, no city money.”
13) One of the protesters got up to speak, saying that she’s a member of the teacher’s union, and asked why we can’t create union jobs building schools and housing instead. She wants to leave the sports complex intact because it’s “insane to break up a good thing going on.”
“Why can’t the Sixers stay in South Philly?”
Answer from Adelman:
“From our perspective, we get the benefit of going where our fans want to go. Most importantly, the Fashion District is on the verge of not existing. Our hope is we can finally do something great to resurrect that mall and get the traffic and activity back on the street. We just respectfully disagree. There’s a reason why 27 of 30 teams have relocated into the urban core of the city.”
14) There was a guy wearing a Virginia Tech longsleeve who yelled into the microphone for 30 seconds, asking why we’re spending so much money on sports instead of human issues.
15) They extended the meeting 30 minutes, from 9 p.m. To 9:30. They could have gotten more Q/A in during the first two hours if people actually asked questions instead of just rambling and raving over and over again. Too many people took the microphone to share their opinion on the project and not actually ask a question, which was ineffective. Other that that, however, the meeting was pretty straightforward. There wasn’t a ton of new information revealed, if any, but it was an open forum and it wasn’t a disaster, so I guess that’s a win.
I caught up with David Gould for a couple of quick questions after the event:
Crossing Broad: What did you make of the session?
Gould: I think we heard a lot of feedback and a lot of the feedback we heard is very consistent with what we’ve been hearing. There are people who are very excited about the project. There are people who are undecided, but have opinions about what should happen, and there are people who are opposed to the project. All the feedback we get is critical to making sure we can deliver the best possible project to Philadelphia.
CB: You guys expecting a little bit of commotion in the back there?
Gould: Yeah, you’ve written about the meeting I went to last year. Fortunately this was a more civil and controlled environment, which was one of our goals, to have a real dialogue. We figured there would probably be some type of disruption and we wanted to be prepared for that. Security was just doing their job. But they (protesters) weren’t bothering anybody, which is why we wanted to make sure we could bring them back in. The signs weren’t bothering anybody. We’re happy to answer all of those questions, so we’re glad it got rectified.
CB: So what’s next, similar meetings, individual community meetings? What’s the outlook for the next couple of months here?
Gould: We’re continuing the individual community meetings. We wanted to make sure there was an in-person opportunity for folks to engage. We did the virtual sessions. No immediate plans right now in terms of what the next large-scale engagement opportunity is, but we are in conversations with a lot of community stakeholders which will continue as we try to figure out what’s the best community benefits agreement we can design.