(Philadelphia Tribune photo)
By Marco Cerino
PHILADELPHIA — Over 3,000 people gathered in Chinatown on Saturday and marched to City Hall in protest of a proposed new 76ers arena to be built in the neighborhood. Members of different progressive and ethnocentric civic groups joined local residents in voicing their opposition to 76 Place planned for East Market Street.
Chinatown has successfully defended attempts by developers to build large projects in the neighborhood, including a new Phillies stadium in the late 1990s and a casino run by Foxwoods a decade later. The protest interestingly gathered on Vine Street, just above where Interstate 676 runs through Center City, the product of construction through and under the neighborhood during the 1980s.
The proposed arena has drawn a lot of criticism and support across the city. Democratic mayoral nominee Cherelle Parker is a proponent, as are her allies in the building and construction trade unions that helped her win a crowded primary last month. While Parker received substantial support from the Black community in her victory, some groups involved in the “No Arena” event were also from the Black community, including POWER Interfaith. the Rev. Joseph A. Wallace-Williams, pastor at The Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany, came out in support of POWER and the event, as he runs an Episcopal Church a few blocks from the proposed site.
“I’m out here to let this community know that, first and foremost, not all Black clergy are against them, that there’s a vast majority of people of color and Black clergy who stand with them,” Wallace-Williams said before the event began. “I’m here to say no, money is not as valuable as people and this community is not going to survive this stadium being built. It’s going to completely destroy this community.”
He brought up the failure of the city and stakeholders to preserve Hahnemann Hospital, closed by its out-of-state owners in 2019 before the start of the pandemic.
Saturday’s event followed the ongoing arguments that an arena on Market Street, proposed to replace the current Fashion District Mall that came out of the old footprint of the Gallery, will displace residents and create unsustainable conditions in the neighborhood.
Construction would disrupt local businesses, some of who were selling their wares on the sidewalk on a warm day before the event, and damage the fabric of a 150-year-old neighborhood that is home to 21,000 Philadelphians from different countries, and serves as a beacon to the immigrant community overall.
Walt Palmer, a civil rights advocate who helped successfully defeat the proposed Phillies stadium years ago, came out in support of the protest Saturday. He was a resident of Black Bottom in West Philadelphia, a Black community that was pushed out by developers to expand the universities’ control in the 1960s.
“Chinatown is a host; anybody coming into Chinatown is a guest, and Chinatown has to make decisions in its best interest, and those on the outside need to support that,” Palmer said. “Whenever people and their property are threatened, all of us, no matter where we live, have to rise up and to protect their property. They must determine, they must be able to decide what is best for their community.”
The event Saturday was mostly led by civic groups, as there were virtually no elected officials involved. Former City Councilmember Helen Gym, who ran on her record of involvement in people-driven movements in Chinatown and elsewhere in her mayoral bid, was in attendance but not in the spotlight. She did get a chance to record her daughter Taryn Flaherty speaking during the rally at City Hall.
State Rep. Tarik Khan, D-Philadelphia, who spoke at the rally, cited the Sixers on-court failures with “The Process” and called for more investment in schools and affordable housing.
He pointed out the Wells Fargo Center, where the Sixers currently play, has received hundreds of millions in recent upgrades to host events throughout the year in South Philadelphia.
Antoinette Mills, representing the Working Families Party, brought up the team’s poor record of hiring locals in Camden, where the team built their practice facility and offices last decade, with only 11 city residents among the 200 employees at the building along the Delaware River.
Marco Cerino is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.
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