There’s a Wednesday Inquirer story titled “A new idea for Market East: A ‘Welcoming District’ for immigrants who are driving population growth.” It’s written by Jeff Gammage, who previously was the paper’s immigration reporter and now covers “the business of sports in the Philadelphia region.

The story centers on a recent panel that included John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, and architect Brian Phillips. The forum was hosted by the DAG (Design Advocacy Group), which last year came out in opposition to the Sixers arena plan.

Some excerpts:

A group of Philadelphians have an idea they think can lift Market Street East, the central commercial corridor that’s suffering under the triple weight of vacant stores, empty offices and vanished foot traffic.

They want to make it the site of a “Welcoming District” for immigrants, the people whose steady arrival is fueling job and population growth in Philadelphia.

Such a district could centralize services in housing, health care, employment, and language access, while cementing Philadelphia’s status as a city that embraces newcomers from around the world.

Sounds great. Altruistic and on brand for a diverse city like Philadelphia.

The thinking around a Welcoming District began percolating last fall, when Phillips asked architectural students to consider how the Fashion District, the ailing, three-block mall where the Sixers intend to build, might be used to create housing and entrepreneurship opportunities for new arrivals.

The Penn student proposals for the Fashion District space could replace an arena or sit near or beside it, even if it might not be the easiest fit.

So the arena and welcoming center might be able to co-exist? A two-fer? Let’s do it. Note that the Sixers are purchasing their portion of the Fashion District from PREIT, which recently filed for bankruptcy a second time this past December, and exited bankruptcy in April. The current plan is to replace the AMC section of the mall with the arena and leave the rest of it intact.

Phillips confirmed that nobody interested in a Welcoming District has money to build one. But, he said, no one should act as if development on Market East has been free.

Taxpayers sunk millions of dollars into the creation of the Gallery, millions more into the Fashion District, and helped pay for the Convention Center and other projects.

A Welcoming District is “very speculative,” Phillips said, “but there are lots of things that have been proposed for Market East that are speculative.”

Speculative, sure, but at least the Sixers have been clear about how they’re going to pay for their arena. It’s $1.5 billion in private money, maybe with a state or federal subsidy for something like solar panels (their words), but nothing at the city level. “Nobody interested in a Welcoming District has money to build one” is a ludicrous sentence to put in a story, considering how much the Inquirer has murdered the Sixers over the past two years. HBSE comes out and proposes a privately-financed arena with a standard PILOT setup and Inga Saffron is out here hammering them at the slightest whiff of impropriety, yet one of the suggested alternatives is to build an immigration center that nobody can fucking pay for. Great idea! Where does the money come from? Rich white men? Maybe the taxpayers should fund it!

That what makes all of this comical. It’s not rooted in reality. A welcoming center is a very nice idea in theory, but cannot be taken seriously without any idea of how to pay for it. If Gabe Escobar was half awake over there, he would have nixed this in two seconds, because it’s not a story. It’s a brainstorming session. Maybe he’s busy going through Roget’s Thesaurus in preparation for his next internal “broadside” against CB.

You don’t have to like the Sixers’ plan, or support their plan, but at least it’s a plan. The PIDC study will be released at some point before we croak (I think?), and we’ll dive into it and determine whether or not the arena is the right thing to build on Market Street. If the plan is good, we do it. If it’s shit, we don’t do it, and David Adelman can find another location to build on. But the alternatives you’re reading about amount to wishful thinking. This is like eating a nothing burger for dinner and a pie in the sky for dessert.

Also, this is misleading:

Every team in the region has a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes). To suggest that the Sixers having the same setup as the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and Union amounts to some sort of “subsidy” is ridiculous, especially since it’s written in the quoted story that “the tax bills for the two parcels that make up that block are just over $1 million this year, according to city property records.” The forfeiture of the land and creation of the PILOT will generate more money than the city is currently making on that portion of the mall.