Home Team apparel The new Sixers Arena could be a huge win for the team and the city

The new Sixers Arena could be a huge win for the team and the city

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Opinion

The proposed “76 Place” would be the right facility in the right place – and the right people would build and fund it.


Rendering of the proposed Sixers Arena, 76 Place at Market East / Images via 76 Devcorp

Note: This story has been updated to note opposition to this proposed project by members of the Chinatown community.

This morning, the Sixers unveiled their vision for a new sports arena that they own and can control.

And with their 76 Place at Market East proposal, they’ve found a win-win.

The first victory is for Market East itself. The public and private investment that has gone into what was once the city’s largest mall has failed to restore its former glory, and the recent transformation of the Gallery mall into Philadelphia’s Fashion District has also failed to live up to its advance billing. This totally private venture brings with it the possibility of more people coming to both Market East and the Fashion District – and since the Sixers are paying for the experience, we’ll be able to see how more and more customers of the coin-operated arena drop in surrounding businesses (if only).

The second victory is for the fans who come to these events. The Sixers cited New York’s Madison Square Garden as an example of what they want to emulate with this arena. This arena sits right above the busiest passenger train station in the country, as well as two major metro lines. This will also be located directly atop a central regional rail station and a stop on the city’s busiest metro line.

Two other similarly located arenas – Boston’s TD Garden and Washington’s Capital One Arena – do not cause massive traffic congestion on event days as many patrons use public transportation to get there. Even more customers are expected to use public transport to get to this arena, as it will have direct all-weather domestic connections to nine public transport stations, including one on the PATCO Lindenwold Line. This will give this facility something that no other sports or concert venue in this region has: one-seat travel from just about any point in the region, the holy grail of the transport planner in common.

(Of course, that’s assuming runners will take the trains to the games. The direct connections should make more of them choose to ride rather than drive to 76 Place rather than the sports complex in the south of Philadelphia, but SEPTA will need to increase both its operations and its marketing games to maximize that number.)

Three of these nine stations will require fans to pass through the Fashion District mall, which will also benefit from this project. The former Gallery II mall, which this arena will replace, never functioned properly due to a flawed design from the start. The Fashion District makeover compensated for these flaws with its placement of entertainment hotspots at its highest; this ensured that more people would be willing to take the escalators to that level. But Round 1 and the AMC theaters combined won’t bring as many people to the mall as this arena would.

arena site map

The proposed arena site will have the best transit access of any sport facility or event venue in the city

Not to mention that with a little thoughtful interior design, the arena could still function as an extension of the mall. Fan amenities like clothing stores, bars and restaurants could stay open when the arena isn’t hosting events to serve mall visitors, for example. Similarly, some of the arena lobbies could contain retail stores that would serve mall customers as well as event fans.

Even the Chinatown neighbors of the Sixers’ new arena could enjoy it. At least its many restaurant and bar owners should. And since the transit lines will siphon off much of the rest of the traffic, it shouldn’t weigh heavily on the neighborhood’s narrow streets the way the Phillies’ proposed ballpark might have. It also won’t stifle Chinatown’s room for growth, as it replaces an existing barrier rather than adding a new one.

However, a coalition of Chinatown community members and organizations today announced they are forming to resist the proposal. The coalition says it has not been contacted by the 76ers despite the significant impact the project would have on the community. In a press release, Steven Zhu, president of the Chinese Restaurant Association, cited the negative impact that DC’s NBA arena has had on that city’s Chinatown, adding “we know that these large sports arenas don’t contribute to the neighborhoods in which they are located; they only serve their own needs and their own profits. These concerns are important and will need to be addressed.

In other ways, at least, the Sixers seem to signal a willingness to make communities around the arena partners in its success. The development team includes Mosaic Development Partners, one of the city’s most successful and creative social impact development firms, led by two black entrepreneurs. And the Sixers say they intend to draft community benefit agreements with its neighbors.

Finally, this proposal is a victory for the town hall and Harrisburg, because the Sixers will not ask for a red penny of support for it. They spend their own money to build it, which is what every sports team owner should do.

Indoor arenas are used more – and more intensively – than football stadiums or even baseball stadiums, and 76 Place would certainly have a year-round calendar of events and activities. Even cities with weaker public transit networks have found that downtown sports arenas provide significant benefits – look at Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston or even Kansas City, whose downtown arena is not home to no major league sports team. Since it would bring so many people downtown and it wouldn’t cost us anything unless we bought tickets to events, this very well thought out proposal deserves our support.