‘Groundbreaking project’: Black Clergy of Philadelphia backs Sixers’ arena proposal

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Calling it a “critical opportunity,” the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity on Tuesday announced its support of the Sixers’ proposal to build a $1.55 billion arena in Center City.

The endorsement, codified in a memorandum of understanding, follows months of internal deliberations informed by conversations with the Sixers and community stakeholders, including opponents from Chinatown, which sits steps from where the team wants to build the arena, dubbed 76 Place.

Rev. Robert Collier Sr., representing the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, endorsed the construction of the proposed 76ers basketball arena in Center City because of its economic impact at a press conference on October 17, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

It comes as the Sixers work toward executing a community benefits agreement and securing zoning legislation, two hurdles the team needs to clear before demolition and construction can start at 11th and Market Streets, where part of the Fashion District shopping mall now stands.

“Very few projects portend such great benefits for so many people. I want to encourage all stakeholders, communities surrounding the arena, City Council, the next administration, and all interested and relevant parties, to come to the table,” said Rev. Robert Collier, president of the Black Clergy during a news conference inside the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

Rev. Robert Collier Sr., representing the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity (left), and 76ers arena developer David Adelman (right) signed a MOU (memorandum of understanding) as part of a larger effort to create a community benefits agreement at a press conference on October 17, 2023. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Black Clergy, which represents hundreds of congregations in the area, is backing the controversial project because of the commitments the Sixers have made to the African American community, as well as the economic benefits it believes a downtown arena would deliver for the entire city, including Chinatown, said Collier.

The memorandum the group co-signed on Tuesday largely contains commitments the Sixers announced in March.

During a news conference held that month with nearly two dozen Black church leaders from the region, along with the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ & Delaware, the team said it would create a $2 million fund dedicated to preparing Black-owned businesses to be vendors, suppliers and concessionaires at 76 Place.

A rendering of the interior of the proposed 76 place. (Courtesy of Gensler and CBL Real Estate, LLC)

That money would be part of the $50 million the team has said it will invest in a community benefits agreement. These legally binding contracts are not uncommon, and typically specify what amenities and mitigations a real estate developer is required to provide in exchange for community support for a project.

The Sixers also want to have Black-owned businesses run 40% of the food, drink, and concession operations at the arena. The MOU additionally calls for the team to “grow a pipeline of Black talent and contractors” through a partnership with Everybody Builds, an organization rooted in diversifying Philadelphia’s construction industry, according to its website.

“Too often, Blacks have played on the court, but not at the cash register in the business of professional sports.[76 Place chairman] David Adelman and the 76ers are changing that,” Collier said.

  • October 17, 2023
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