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March 02, 2018

Residents in North Philly rally against plans for Temple football stadium in their neighborhood

University officials did not participate but plan to hold town hall to discuss proposal next week

Neighborhoods Development
Temple Stadium Stompers TH Michael Tanenbaum/PhillyVoice

North Philadelphia neighbors gather for urgent town hall meeting at G.W. Carver High School of Science & Engineering on March 1, 2018.

More than 200 North Philadelphia neighbors packed into the auditorium of G.W. Carver High School of Engineering & Science on Thursday night to continue voicing opposition to the football stadium Temple University wants to build in their community.

The event was scheduled ahead of Temple's own formal town hall meeting next Tuesday night, an informational session on the $130 million project the university hopes will enliven the campus atmosphere on North Broad Street.

Led by the NAACP, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and the local resistance group Stadium Stompers, Thursday night's meeting served as a preview of the backlash that could erupt next week.

"You always have to be careful when people say they’ve got a good deal for you and yet they won’t come to the public to tell you about it," said the Reverend Dr. William B. Moore, of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, in his introductory remarks to the audience.

Community members opposed to the stadium — first introduced by Temple more than two years ago — have consistently taken issue with the university's limited transparency and spotty neighborhood engagement during the length of the $1.25 million feasibility study.

Temple officials and members of the university's Board of Trustees declined invitations to attend Thursday's event, organizers said.

Designed by renowned African American architecture firm Moody Nolan, the 35,000-seat stadium is proposed at a site bounded by Broad Street west to 16th Street and Norris Street south to Montgomery Avenue. Temple announced plans to submit the proposal to Philadelphia's City Planning Commission in January.

NoneSource/Temple University

Map of proposed football stadium at Temple University's North Philadelphia campus.

By the time neighbors received a mailer last week inviting them to attend the upcoming town hall, it was one of the first times many of them could recall hearing anything from Temple, said Stadium Stompers leader Ruth Birchett, a longtime resident of North Central Philly.

Birchett likened the current situation to a distant Temple development boom in the late 1950's, when her father and his contemporaries fought the university's expansion plans on North Broad Street.

"They will not work with the community with regard to their expansion plan," Birchett said. "You can't even call it that. It’s encroachment. It's displacement. It’s not even relocation, because they don’t care where we’re going to go."

The atmosphere of Thursday night's meeting was permeated by the threat of gentrification, higher taxes and various neighborhood nuisances anticipated with the construction of a stadium, both in the short- and long-term.

NoneSource/Temple University

Rendering of proposed football stadium at Temple University's North Philadelphia campus.

Speakers and other community members offering public comments decried Temple's corporate mentality and gave sharp criticism to City Council President Darrell Clarke for allowing the university to proceed against the apparent wishes of neighbors, faculty and Temple students.

Mary Stricker, a Temple sociology professor and leader with the Temple Association of University Professionals, said her organization passed a resolution opposing the stadium project.

"In this resolution, we made clear that Temple's commitment must be to the education and well-being of its students, as well as its own long-term financial stability," Stricker said. "This stadium proposal violates all three of those commitments. We made clear that the decision to proceed with this stadium illustrates Temple's utter disregard and utter disrespect for the surrounding North Philadelphia neighborhood and its many unmet needs — none of which, of course, will be addressed by this stadium regardless of what they say."

Multiple speakers repeated their belief that Temple football games should remain at Lincoln Financial Field, where higher lease payments charged by the Philadelphia Eagles have pushed the university to consider its alternatives.

NoneSource/Temple University

Street view rendering alongside proposed football stadium at Temple University.

Gail Loney, a local block captain and organizer for Stadium Stompers, recalled a history of Temple development projects that failed to include or bring benefit to the community. 

The demolition of William Penn High School on North Broad Street in 2016 remains a point of contention for many neighbors who feel the university undercut and deceived them. The building was purchased by Temple in 2015 for $15 million — barely half the land's value, said Loney, a retired corporate compliance professional — and then torn down after years of community efforts to restore or redevelop it

The space has since been converted into a series of fields for use by Temple student-athletes. Even the planning of Temple's new Student Health & Wellness Center at 15th Street and Montgomery Avenue incorporated no public feedback until the project was underway, Loney claimed. 

The community's concerns about the proposed stadium, she said, go much further than trash and traffic.

"It's about land sovereignty and environmental pollution," said Loney. "There are daycares, a rec center and a senior center right next to where they want to build. People are scared. People are concerned. They wonder, what's going to happen to me?" 

Loney also expressed skepticism about Temple's claim that the stadium would be financed primarily through private donations and bonds. Stadium Stompers recently followed university officials to Harrisburg, she said, where it became clear that they were seeking help from the state, and thus taxpayers. 

At various points throughout the night on Thursday, the audience broke into a chant, "We shall not be moved!" Speakers urged neighbors not to buy into Temple's assurances and not to trust politicians who have dismissed opposition to the project as naive.

Jackie Wiggins, an early leader in the Stadium Stompers movement, said she's been told by Pennsylvania Rep. Gary Williams to back off the protests because the project is a "done deal." Other politicians, she added, have offered only head nods or silence, suggesting much the same.

NoneThom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Protestors march south on Broad Street near Callowhill Street on Thursday, April 14, 2016, in protest of Temple University's proposed football stadium.

"The stadium should never even have been considered for a neighborhood," said Wiggins, a resident of North Philadelphia since the 1960's. "Change is going to happen. We are aware of that. But change happening to drive black folks out of their homes' history, our history, our culture and most of all, our memories, will not be tolerated. Yes, I am passionate about stopping the stadium. I am not naive. This effort is wrong-headed no matter how you look at it."

A Temple spokesperson contacted Friday said the university would not comment before holding its own town hall meeting. The university has encouraged all interested parties to attend the information session on Tuesday night at 6:30 in Mitten Hall, 1913 N. Broad St., where Temple President Richard Englert will be joined by architects from the university and Moody Nolan to discuss structural features of the proposal. 

University officials, despite the experience described by neighbors at Thursday's meeting, said next week's town hall will be an extension of ongoing conversations Temple has held with the community over the past two years. 

“I firmly believe this facility will be good for our neighbors as well as the Temple community,” Englert said in a statement announcing the meeting. “For nearly two years, we have been talking with our neighbors to address concerns over the impact of the project. The information we have presented in recent weeks and our presentation on Tuesday will show we have been responsive to those concerns."

Loney said she wants to see her neighbors carry the same momentum from Thursday night's meeting into the town hall held by Temple next week. 

"We want them to really listen to us in terms of the questions we've had," Loney said. "Where is the transparency in this project? Why didn't [Temple] announce this project two years ago if they say they have community members who want it?  Who are they? They announced their plan for the feasibility study directly to the news and never came to the people who live here."