PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — The fight is heating up over a proposal to build a new Sixers arena next to Chinatown.
Dubbed 76 Place, the arena would be located on Market Street between 10th and 11th Streets, with developers demolishing a block of the Fashion District Mall.
Demolition for the proposed area would begin in 2026, construction in 2028, and opening in September 2031.
Action News’ Nydia Han sat down with people on both sides of the debate to understand the issues and what Chinatown means to the community, from the elderly to the younger generation.
“We think it’s a really great opportunity, not just for the organization, not just for the team, but for the city,” said David Gould of 76 DevCorp. “We know East Market Street has been challenged from a business, development and economic opportunity standpoint. If you go down there there are a lot of vacancies. The fashion district, in my opinion, hasn’t really achieved what it says people were hoping for. And we’ve also heard that this lack of activity has caused problems for surrounding businesses and some of the community.
But it won’t be a slam dunk.
While the proposed location is at one of the busiest transportation hubs and the developers promise to revitalize the area while keeping Chinatown’s preservation in mind, winning over the community will not be easy.
Allen Lin coaches the Philadelphia Suns, Chinatown’s basketball team.
He’s also a big 76ers fan, but says, “It’s definitely going to have a negative impact on Chinatown.”
Many in Chinatown agree.
Howland Cui is also a member of the AAU whose youth and founding members work to preserve Chinatown and fight 76 Place, he is a fan of the team, not the proposed stadium.
When asked what Chinatown means to him, Cui said, “It means a place where I can connect with friends and my culture.”
“I come to Chinatown at least twice, maybe three times a week. I usually have dinner here with my family or we go shopping,” Celine To said.
To and other AAU youth surveyed 700 people in Chinatown about Chinatown.
“And we found that not many people knew the boundaries of Chinatown,” To said.
Or that the borders have shrunk.
“They built the commuter tunnel that cut through something like Chinatown,” To said.
“What people don’t understand is that fighting for justice is a tradition in this particular community,” Debbie Wei said.
Wei is a founding member of AAU and now passes the tradition on to the other youth, who say they are concerned an arena could cause problems, from parking to current community pricing.
“Putting the 76ers’ stadium there would ruin a lot of the Chinese and local businesses here in Chinatown,” Cui said.
“I know that not only will it bring more congestion, but it won’t be as safe as it was before,” To said.
“I live in Chinatown myself and I’ve been to a lot of other Chinatowns, especially DC… and I’ve seen how the stadium has influenced their Chinatown,” Lin said.
Suzi talks about what is now called Capitol One Arena.
Wei says after the arena ruined Chinatown in Washington DC.
“They had 3000 inhabitants. Now they have 300. Chinese residents, these residents cannot leave because they live in subsidized housing that the community has been fighting for. Many of them are seniors. The nearest Chinese grocery store is 42 km away.”
Action News caught up with Wei and others when they traveled to Washington in September. Wei recalled Chinatown’s long struggle against development, including a successful battle against a new Phillies stadium in 2000.
“When they announced the casino in 2008, we crossed out stadium, put in casino and had new shirts,” she said. “Wearing this shirt gives me a certain level of strength, a certain level of hope.”
Draw parallels with Washington, DC
This week, Action News brought Chinatown’s latest concerns straight to 76 DevCorp’s David Gould, who pledged to develop in a responsible and equitable manner.
“We are presenting a proposal that avoids all the pitfalls of previous development proposals and is truly crafted in partnership with community stakeholders in a way that has the potential to produce a positive outcome,” he said.
“A lot of people draw parallels between Washington DC and Philadelphia,” Action News’ Nydia Han told Gould.
“We want to learn from the mistakes made in a project like this. And making sure that’s the opposite of that, that’s actually something that uplifts and supports the community, rather than threatening and shrinking it,” he said.
“How is 76 Place different?” Han asked.
“Well, one is that we don’t develop in the community. We’re developing on Market Street, so it’s not a Chinatown project,” Gould said.
Gould also tells me that 76 DevCorp is aware of other concerns and is working to address them.
“We’re taking a very conscious approach to really learning from the community to figure out how to put together a proposal that could benefit the neighborhood,” he said. “That could be building new affordable housing, which could be various grant and loan programs for businesses. We will conduct and plan a traffic and parking study so we can show how we can mitigate the potential negative impacts there.”
“A lot of things that contribute to the lack of security are the lack of activities,” Gould said. “The activities that the arena will bring will not only bring more positive foot traffic, which will help deter some of these types of incidents. But we will also invest in safety and safety ambassadors and things like that.”
But Chinatown leaders have so far accused the organization of a lack of transparency.
“There was very, very little information,” said John Chin of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.
“Were you aware of 76th place before the public announcement in July?” Han asked.
“They came to us,” Chin said. “That was about two days before they made the public announcement.”
“People in Chinatown felt taken aback by the announcement, and first impressions count,” said Han Gould.
“We certainly didn’t want any disrespect,” he said. “We met with a number of community groups just before the announcement, which is really possible once we were.”
“Our website was launched on the day of the announcement, which was in both English and Chinese to ensure people can go and get information about the project. People also have the opportunity to ask questions. We’ve done our best to get people to get accurate information,” he said.
But Chinatown leaders claim that just last week, 76 DevCorp tried to sneak a clause into a city council bill to pave a way forward.
“It’s a miracle we caught it at all,” Wei said. “You haven’t earned our trust at all.”
The Sixers say the language was “accidentally” included.
“It was a mistake,” Gould said. “We know this is a really important cultural hub, not only for the people who live and work there, but also for the broader Chinese and Chinese-American diaspora across the region.”
Meanwhile, 76 DevCorp promises to keep explaining and listening in ongoing meetings.
“Absolutely, we will listen. And that was really our goal,” Gould said.
It’s sure to get an ear.
“I feel like if we lost Chinatown here in Philly, a big part of me would just be gone,” Cui said.
“I think it’s up to us to save all of Chinatown, and maybe in the future too,” Suzi said.
Wei says it’s not just about the future of Chinatown, but of the city as a whole.
“We’re not used to having location-based identification anymore, but it’s the lifeblood of what makes cities matter, what makes communities matter,” Wei said.
“Honestly, I’m not ready to say goodbye yet,” Lin said.
A Chinatown Steering Committee has now been formed to act as a liaison between the community and 76 DevCorp and explore a community service agreement. The committee will hold a series of public town halls. The AAU is NOT a member of the Steering Committee.
Action News asked Gould if another location is an option at this time and the response was that the current location is the only option currently being considered.
76 Devcorp provided this fact sheet with what it calls misinformation. You can read it below:
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https://6abc.com/new-76ers-arena-philadelphia-chinatown-philly-asian-american/12575161/ Debate over proposed 76ers arena in Philadelphia’s Chinatown heats up | Nydia Han sits down with both sides