Temple University’s board was going to discuss the $100 million football stadium it plans for North Philly at a packed meeting Tuesday. Instead, they’re scrambling to sit down with city leaders who apparently remain unconvinced the 40,000-seat structure is a good idea.
Mayor-elect Jim Kenney has publicly expressed that he’s not so hot on the structure Temple is planning for just a few blocks behind the Liacouras Center, likely pushing out a park and a recreational center.
Board chair Patrick O’Connor after the meeting briefly met with reporters and touted the football team’s on-field and in-the-classroom success of the past year as the team went 10-3 (though some say a new stadium could actually doom its football ambition). O’Connor added that following meetings with city officials in the coming weeks, the board hopes to make a decision on the stadium that’s proved a contentious issue with neighbors.
For instance, Kenneth Johnson, a lifelong North Philly resident who lives on the 2100 block of N. 18th St., said he wants his grandson to one day want to live in the community in which he grew up. But with Temple’s sprawl in the neighborhood, he doesn’t know if that’s possible.
“These past 10 years, as students have moved into the neighborhood, it has been a detriment,” he said. “We’ve had enough of students tearing up the neighborhood.”
It’s unclear exactly when school leaders will meet with city officials, but Kenney’s spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said the mayor-elect is “concerned about the impact on the community” and wants to see if the school could explore renting out Lincoln Financial Field from the Eagles at a lower rate. O’Connor said the school’s current agreement with the Eagles expires in 2017.
Council President Darrell Clarke, who covers the Fifth District where Temple is located, hasn’t come out wholly in opposition to the stadium, but has expressed that if community members aren’t heard, the stadium isn’t happening.
Whether or not community members have been heard thus far is debatable.
As far as community members know, no one from the school’s Board of Trustees attended a recent community meeting where more than 100 people showed up at a local church to decry the move that they say could push them out of their homes. Residents both at the community meeting and those who were protesting at the board meeting Tuesday are largely concerned that no plans have been released about where 40,000 football fans will park. And neighbors are concerned that a parking lot might fall squarely where their homes sit.
Members of the board and dozens of others in the room Tuesday could hear the muffled sounds of people yelling outside — students and community members protesting the proposed football stadium who were barred from entering the public board meeting.
Directly following the meeting, five people who were allowed inside chanted to the board members filing out about their opposition to the stadium. The attendees — four community members and one student — were apparently the only protestors from outside who were allowed inside the board meeting.
The controversy over Temple’s stadium comes after tensions have risen with neighbors over the last decade as student housing sprawls further into the neighborhood and the state-related school continues to grow. Most recently, neighbors successfully lobbied SEPTA to take down huge Temple signage that adorned the Cecil B. Moore Broad Street Line station. The huge Temple ads, the community members said, were larger than the name of Moore, a Civil Rights activist.
Clarke’s spokeswoman Jane Roh said that his office won’t be scheduling community meetings to gather input on the stadium, but does expect to be involved in conversations.
“This is Temple University’s proposal, not Council’s proposal,” she said, “so the onus is on them to take the lead on gathering community input.” The school’s Board of Trustees, which first heard plans about the stadium in October, does not hold public comment time during its full board meetings.
Sullivan Hall in the middle of the school’s main campus was dotted with Temple University police officers Tuesday and reporters were escorted into the building through a side door. Temple Executive Director of Public Safety Charles Leone said the school bumped up security for the meeting because it didn’t know how many protestors to expect and limited the number of attendees because the room “can only fit so many people.”
So the about 60 people who weren’t let into the building for the Board of Trustees meeting protested outside anyway. Temple alumnus Pele Irgangladen, who now lives in Kensington, said students trying to get into the building faced harsh resistance from Temple Police.
“There was just this visual of two rows of police behind barricades,” Irgangladen, 23, said. “We tried to walk in non-violently, and the police reaction was violence.”
He also chided the board for failing to show up at last week’s community meeting and said he hopes and expects more gatherings like it to occur — he just wishes school officials would come and speak with people directly about their plans.
Zoe Buckwalter, a 21-year-old Temple senior involved with the school’s 15Now chapter, was the one student protestor who was let into the Board of Trustees meeting, and when it was over, she led a chant to the board that derided them for “ignoring” the community.
She said it’s been frustrating for students and community members fighting for higher minimum wages for workers at Temple, as the university has said that if wages were increased, students would be saddled with the costs.
O’Connor said the university will seek some state funds to assist with the building of the stadium and the school has already received commitments from big donors. Some $70 million will come from the money that would have regularly gone to the Eagles for use of the Lincoln Financial Center. He said the university does not want students to bear the burden of constructing the stadium with their tuition dollars.
“The university has repeatedly ignored us on this,” Buckwalter said afterwards. “But all of a sudden they have $100 million to build a stadium. It’s an issue of priority.”
This story was updated to include comment from Jane Roh.