Rubber hits the road for Sixers’ arena proposal with marathon design review

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In July 2022, the Philadelphia 76ers made a big announcement. After more than 25 years in South Philadelphia, the franchise planned to pack its bags and move to a new basketball arena in the heart of Center City.

Since then, the team has released a series of architectural renderings, pitched the $1.55 billion project to community stakeholders, lobbied lawmakers, and bankrolled a pair of highly-anticipated impact studies — all while facing stiff opposition from residents and business owners in nearby Chinatown, who fear the arena will drive swift gentrification that will destroy the 150-year-old neighborhood.

The public approvals process is just getting started, however. And a lot needs to happen before construction can start on 76 Place, which the team hopes to open in 2031.

Let’s take a look at where we are in the process.

Hours of scrutiny

The team’s proposal got its first official city review this week.

On Monday, 76 Devcorp, the arena’s development team, and architecture firm Gensler presented a “master plan” for the project to the city’s Civic Design Review committee. The advisory group, composed of architects and planners, provides feedback on proposed developments early on in the approvals process. And while developers are not required to adopt the committee’s recommendations, they are strongly encouraged to incorporate them into their designs before finalizing them.

During a marathon virtual meeting, presenters focused on issues related to how the arena would function in the neighborhood during events, including parking, pedestrian access, and loading zones. Separate reviews will center on the arena’s design, as well as the residential tower the Sixers want to build on top of the facility.

Feedback from committee members was largely critical. And everyone who offered public comment during the hearing — roughly 30 people — took issue with the project, with several participants questioning the location and the need to leave the Sports Complex.

“Why are we causing so much distress to our citizens when we’re under so much stress already? Why are spending all this time and activity on something we all know doesn’t make any sense?” said Tinamarie Russell, director of the North Central Philadelphia CDC.

The Sixers are proposing an 18,500-seat arena on Market Street between 10th and 11th streets – on top of SEPTA’s Jefferson Station. The mixed-used development, which would feature restaurants and retail on the ground floor, would replace a third of the struggling Fashion District mall.

The decision to leave the Wells Fargo Center is primarily about basketball. The Sixers argue the franchise needs a state-of-the-art arena to compete — to sign top-tier players, contend for championships, and keep fans in the stands.

But the team also says they want to be on Market Street because they believe a new arena would help jumpstart the blocks east of City Hall, an underutilized corridor that has struggled to thrive despite millions in investment. It’s part of the reason why the master plan calls for five retail spaces and a team store on the ground floor of the facility with the arena above.

“We think this is the spark that can ignite some of that other development, particularly as it’s a private investment,” said Alex Kafenbaum, head of development for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Sixers, during Tuesday’s meeting.

  • December 20, 2023
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