Philadelphia has had a gentrification problem for generations, and it still does, but Philadelphians in the last few years have said enough is enough. The latest iteration of this war on poor and marginalized communities is the planned 76ers Place in Chinatown. More than three thousand Philadelphians from across the city came out on June 10, 2023, to center the residents and businesses in Chinatown and tell the billionaire owners of the 76ers there would be no arena in Chinatown.
“The developers keep deceiving us; from the beginning, the developers have deceived everyone, including the people,” said Sam Sam, owner of Little Saigon Café, affectionately known as Uncle Sam. “They say their plan has succeeded; that’s not true. We’ve just started. We’ll fight to the end; Chinatown will have no arena.”
From the beginning of the proposal, 76 Devcorp and their surrogates have consistently lied to the residents of Chinatown, political leaders, and the media. At the same time, they have tried to sneak legislative language into an innocuous funding bill for a parking garage that would have made construction easier by cutting out Filbert Street between 10th and 11th Street. Tried to buy the mayoral primary election with Dark Money donated to For A Better Philadelphia, a political action committee (PAC) that supported Brown in the primary, and was recently fined 4,000 dollars for trying to conceal the nature of their lobbying efforts directed at Mayor Jim Kenney(D), Council President Darrel Clarke(D), and first district council member Mark Squilla(D) connection with the arena.
Under “councilmanic prerogative,” Councilmember Squilla will influence whether the 76ers arena gets approved and may have the final say on the arena.
“I don’t recall meeting with anyone from CBL, but I will continue to engage with all stakeholders as the process moves forward, and I will evaluate the studies as they’re completed before I make any decision,” said Squilla.
But the 76ers arena is just the latest assault on Chinatown, other parts of the city, and poor and marginalized communities nationwide. Chinatown has battled against the Vine Expressway, which split Chinatown, the Convention Center, a stadium, federal prison, and two casinos. They haven’t won all the battles in the war on Chinatown, but they have won many.
“It does not matter whether you are Asian or Black,” said Walt Palmer, who has taught courses in American Racism and Institutional Racism at the University of Pennsylvania and supported Chinatown’s successful fight to stop a baseball stadium in the community. “It matters what we do in the face of tragedy. And the only thing we can do is rise and fight against it.”
In recent years there have been many battles against wealthy developers, from the encampment on the Parkway to the struggle for UC Homes in West Philly; Philadelphians have been united in the fight to build housing and protect communities across the city.
“I lived in Chinatown a long time and am 96 now. It’s my responsibility to continue speaking up for the community, and I’m happy that I could do that today,” said Chen Kia Chan, a 96-year-old Chinatown elder who came to the United States 85 years ago and has called Philly Chinatown home over forty years. He was part of the fight to stop a baseball stadium from being built in Chinatown back in 2000.
Data on downtown arenas is extensive and abundantly clear that these projects provide little to no benefit for cities. One report examining 130 economic studies over 30 years showed little to no financial gain to a city related to stadiums built in their municipality. The damage that would occur to Philadelphia’s Chinatown can be seen firsthand in Washington, DC’s Chinatown, which lost its fight against the Capital One Arena.
Rent in the area skyrocketed, driving out residents and small business owners who were quickly replaced with corporate chain restaurants, decimating the cultural heritage of their immigrant forbearers.
“This project would decimate Chinatown, create traffic and parking nightmares, and significantly worsen public safety because the building would be empty more than two-thirds of the year,” said Mohan Seshadri, executive director of Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance. “Today, our people showed the developers what we think of their land grab.”
“This arena would be terrible for the city,” said State Representative Tarik Khan during the City Hall rally portion of the demonstration. “My message to the billionaires behind 76 Place: Find another project, like fixing our public schools.”
Both mayoral candidates have said they would remain neutral on the arena. Cherelle Parker has suggested she was more open to the arena because it would create thousands of union jobs, earning her the support of the building trade unions in the primary. Many of these jobs would be temporary while destroying numerous permanent jobs and small businesses in Chinatown, only to be replaced with seasonal work in the arena.