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September 14, 2023

76ers arena legislation will be drafted, councilmember says, but when it'll be introduced is uncertain

Outside Thursday's council session, Mark Squilla promised the proposed bill would be made public a month before being introduced

Development Arenas
Sixers arena Squilla Provided image/Gensler

Councilmember Mark Squilla, who represents the area where the proposed 76ers arena would be built, says legislation authorizing the project is being drafted.

The 76ers' controversial arena proposal appears to be on track for legislative approval.

Councilmember Mark Squilla, who represents the 1st District which spans parts of the River Wards, Center City and South Philly, told anti-arena protestors at City Hall on Thursday morning that he expected an ordinance authorizing the project to be drafted. As the councilmember for the district where the project would be built, Squilla holds ultimate approval or veto power over the land use.

MORE: Housing activists liken 76ers' arena plans to Philly's long history of displacement

Squilla said he would share the draft of legislation he receives with community members 30 days before it was introduced, but he did not know when he would get it. 

"Could be October, September," he said. "It could be November."

Squilla confirmed he would be the councilmember to introduce it, but said the ordinance would need "some community stakeholder support." He indicated that would be assessed after the city concluded its impact studies on the arena.

"We didn't get there yet because we're still doing the planning studies that were requested by communities," he said.

Those studies have drawn fire from arena opponents who argue the conclusions will be biased because the Sixers are funding them. Independent consulting firms are leading the evaluations, which were announced in April.

The comments followed a busy morning at City Hall, as protestors from No Arena in Chinatown gathered on the corner of Market and Filbert streets around 8 a.m. to "welcome back" Squilla to the fall legislative session. They said they wanted to remind Squilla of a promise from last year.

"He made the commitment in December saying that he wouldn't put any legislation forward if Chinatown didn't want it," Jenny Zhang, an organizer with API PA, said earlier this week. "He's (now) backtracking and saying, well, I didn't mean just Chinatown, even though he said that in a room of 300+ Chinatown residents and supporters in a Chinatown restaurant."

Squilla's office disputed that characterization, in part, saying the councilmember had said "if no community stakeholders supported the new arena," he would not introduce legislation. Perhaps the most vocal supporters thus far have been the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, a union representing workers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A truck sponsored by the EASRCC circled City Hall on Thursday, with a screen reading "Carpenters Support Jobs."

Some of those carpenters were at City Hall.

"It's 9,100 direct, full-time construction jobs," Tom Jordan, a retired carpenter, said. "While it's being built, it's going to spur development along Market Street. More projects, more work for us."

But the anti-arena movement says the short-term economic benefits of the project do not outweigh the long-term impact the arena would have on Chinatown. The arena is proposed to be built at 10th and Market streets with its northside approaching Chinatown' southern boundary. The movement has amassed a broad coalition of supporters that includes not just Chinatown community members, but interfaith organizations, housing advocates and small business owners in other parts of the city, who argue the arena will displace residents and business owners.

Edward Garcia, who co-owns the board game cafe Queen & Rook, at 607 S. Second St., said supporting small businesses like his meant keeping the arena out.

"If you look at where the arenas are now, there's three arenas in a close area with lots of parking and lots of people," he said. "And what you don't see around there a lot is the pop-ups of small businesses, because that's not the crowd that caters to that. Putting it in the middle of, of downtown, I think, would only create a dead zone, as many other big projects with not a lot of street-facing activity would do."

On Thursday, the Inquirer reported that the 76ers development team, 76 Devorp, had eased off its own deadline for winning City Council approval and having enabling legislation passed before the end of 2023.

In an statement emailed to PhillyVoice, 76 Devcorp said the team continues to "work with urgency" but expect in order to allow the impact studies to be completed, "a winter legislative process will likely make the most sense."

"The Philadelphia 76ers have said from the start that we will follow the city’s lead and we’re willing to take the time to get this right," the statement reads. "That’s why we announced the project eight years in advance."

This is a developing story that is being updated as information become available.

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