By Michael D’Onofrio and Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — Some Black organizations are backing the Philadelphia 76ers’ bid to build a new basketball stadium near Penn’s Landing, banking on a billion dollars worth of incentives pledged by the NBA franchise for Black and brown communities.
But one Black leader said those organizations must pressure the Sixers to keep their commitments to ensure they’re not just hype if the project moves forward.
“We feel that the possibilities outweigh those negative thoughts, so we’re pushing forward emphasizing the fact that these promises were made and we want to ensure that they’re going to continue,” said the Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
Collier joined the Urban League of Philadelphia, Urban Affairs Coalition and African-American Chamber of Commerce of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware (AACC) to endorse the Sixers’ proposal, according to a news release from the groups.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that the Sixers have proposed a sports arena along the Delaware River waterfront near Penn’s Landing. The NBA franchise was seeking to move out the Wells Fargo Center, which is owned by Comcast Spectator, by the 2031 season, the Inquirer reported.
The 76ers and other real estate groups have submitted a development proposal to the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. (DRWC), which oversees the waterfront, the Inquirer reported. DRWC is expected to decide on the bids by the end of September.
The Inquirer reported that Sixers have proposed “to finance the project using the state Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) program, which allows development bonds to be issued based on future tax revenues from businesses within a certain area.”
Yet questions remain over the effectiveness of the NIZ program that was used for a project in Allentown and whether it delivered the promised economic benefits, according to WHYY.
The coalition of African-American groups said the Sixers’ project would provide approximately a billion dollars of investment to Black and brown communities yet provided no further details, such as guarantees to use minority-owned contractors during construction.
The groups said the project also could provide tax revenue and an unspecified number of jobs to the city.
In an email, a Sixers spokesperson reiterated a statement issued to other media organizations: “The 76ers have long enjoyed a strong relationship with Comcast-Spectacor, but the organization is exploring all options for when its lease ends at Wells Fargo Center in 2031, including a potential arena development at Penn’s Landing.”
AACC Chairman Steven Scott Bradley said the proposed development could be a “game changer” for Black-owned companies. He’s been engaged in various discussions with Sixers’ officials about the project for more than two weeks.
“They seem very earnest in talking about not only employment opportunities, but they really want to make a substantial commitment to small vendors, vendors of color (and) mid-sized companies,” Bradley said.
The Sixers also pledged to bring these companies in at an early stage and help them build their capacity during the 15-year project, Bradley said.
“I think it’s significant that we have to be supportive of projects like this and be receptive to it, and not just assume we’re going to end up getting lost at the end of the deal,” Bradley said. “By having us at the table now, it’s going to be beneficial for us.”
Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president of the Urban Affairs Coalition, said it was significant that the 76ers were connecting with community and religious groups of color during the early stages of the proposal. She believed the Sixers’ outreach now would ensure diversity and inclusion were baked into the project, but she has yet to be provided with any detailed figures from the Sixers.
“They know we’re going to be paying very, very close attention, monitoring, working with them where we can and challenging them if we need to,” Matlock-Turner said.
Collier said the Sixers won his support after he had one-on-one talks with leaders in the organization. He believed the project would provide an economic boost for people of color as well as others and “a shot in the arm for the Philadelphia economic community.”
Although Collier conceded assurances remain vague at this early stage, he said he and the Black clergy will remain engaged in the development.
“We have no assurances. We just have what the promoters, what the owners proposed to do,” Collier said.
“We’re not just going to endorse something and stand by. We’re going to follow up and ensure that they keep their promises and they provide the jobs they said they would,” Collier said.
Michael D’Onofrio and Ayana Jones are reporters for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.