Just 24 hours before more than a dozen politicians and candidates gathered in North Philadelphia to talk to voters before the April primary, the area’s state university approved plans that would mean more upheaval than almost anything else around.
On Monday, Temple University’s board of trustees approved a $1 million design study for the construction of a stadium on campus, a move the school says will put its football program on the national scale and drive economic growth in the area.
But the school has caught plenty of flak for the decision as some neighbors — and even some students — have claimed Temple has largely failed to involve the community in its decision-making process.
The stadium isn’t final. Plenty of steps need to be taken before a foundation can be laid for the 35,000-seat, $126 million stadium would rise on the west side of Broad Street. Some local politicians — including Mayor Jim Kenney and Council President Darrell Clarke, in whose district Temple falls — have chided the university for what some have called a closed-door decision-making process.
Some of the current politicians and candidates who gathered at the TLO Event Complex at 16th and Cecil B. Moore last night for a meet-and-greet event weighed in after the program on the stadium and where they stand on the project:
Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, 181st district
Longtime North Philadelphia state representative Curtis Thomas said he’s opposed to plans to place a stadium in his district, saying the community “is opposed to it” and he doesn’t support “development projects that don’t come with community support.”
Thomas also noted that he didn’t support the construction of Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia for the same reason.
“I don’t see how it fits,” he said regarding Temple’s plans. “These people who have lived here for 40, 50 years, they can’t just pack up and leave.”
Johnny Patterson, candidate, 181st district
The Democratic candidate running for state representative against longtime incumbent Thomas said he’s opposed to the project as he has concerns a stadium could displace residents and lead to “massive” congestion in the area on game days. Patterson, whose platform sits largely on mitigating the impacts of gentrification, said a stadium would “re-gentrify” this area of North Philadelphia and further strain an already contentious relationship between the neighborhood and Temple University.
“Temple has run amok in North Philly,” Patterson said. “They have only engaged certain community organizations and haven’t engaged in the community directly.”
Kenneth T. Walker Jr., candidate 181st district
Walker, also challenging Thomas for a spot in the state House, said he’s opposes the stadium plans because “it seems Temple didn’t allow the community to be a part of the decision-making process.”
“They haven’t gotten the consensus of the community,” he said. “And they may be putting the community in harm’s way.”
Rep. Donna Bullock, 195th district
Bullock, a Democrat who has represented parts of North Philly, Fairmount, Brewerytown and Strawberry Mansion for a year, didn’t take a side in the debate over Temple proposed stadium project — she did say it could be “an economic driver” in the neighborhood but was apprehensive to fully support it because “it has to have community buy-in.”
She said if it’s to go forward at all, she’d want assurances from the university that community members would be involved in every step of the process, including employment opportunities and ways to incorporate local women and minority-owned businesses into the process.
Bryant McKay, candidate, 195th district
McKay, running for a seat in the state House against Bullock, said he feels large development projects like this represents “progress” but he wants to see more benefits to neighbors, whether it’s better security, more lighting or some kind of tax break.
Ruth Birchett, candidate, 3rd senatorial district
This Temple alumna, who graduated in 1977, is running to replace the retiring Sen. Shirley Kitchen in the 3rd senatorial district and says she was standing outside the Temple board meeting on Monday with a megaphone protesting against the proposed stadium project.
She said, referring to Lincoln Financial Field, that Philadelphia “already has an amazing sports complex that’s easily accessible” and it’s “most appropriate” for the city’s athletic teams to operate there.
“We will fight every truck and every brick,” Birchett said. “This deeply troubles me.”
Emmanuel Bussie, candidate, 3rd senatorial district
Bussie, who on Tuesday branded himself as “a different kind of Democrat” and railed against “the system,” said he is “110 percent for economic development, it just needs to be fair.”
He said that he’s in favor of development opportunities for Temple University but wants the school to forge stronger partnerships with community organizations.