Daniel Briley has lived in the same row home in North Philadelphia for 69 years, spending his entire life watching his block evolve from a place where he could look off in the distance and see most of the Philadelphia city skyline into one surrounded by Temple University buildings and frequented by walking students.
Now the retired public schools official and community leader in his area lives across the street from where university leaders want to construct a new, on-campus football stadium. Briley and some of his neighbors, including his sister who is a block captain, are against the proposed project and say they’ll fight it any chance they get, like a community meeting being held tonight at 16th and Berks.
Still, Briley says, he assumes the university will do what it wants in the end even if neighbors are against it.
“Money talks and bullshit walks,” he said on his front stoop this week. “There are seven home games. What are they going to do the rest of the year?”
Briley lives in one of dozens of homes in the area of 16th and Norris streets that, if Temple University gets its way, will one day soon be flanked by a 30,000-seat, $100 million on-campus football stadium — and a $1 million design study has already been approved by university leaders. As part of the proposed stadium project, school officials have also vowed to invest another $300 million in economic development in the area.
“We are working diligently to be good neighbors to the North Philadelphia community,” board chair Patrick O’Connor said in February.
Some community leaders aren’t so sure. There’s been plenty of opposition voiced by community members and neighbors who’d prefer if Temple University didn’t put a stadium smack in the middle of North Philly. Protestors have showed up at Board of Trustees meetings complaining that they fear home football games will jam traffic, stymie parking and fill their sidewalks with partying spectators.
Board members and school officials have for months promised to reach out to community members who may be directly impacted by the construction of a stadium. No one Billy Penn spoke with this week had heard from the university; however, Temple has engaged with five block captains in the area.
Local politicians have chided Temple for failing to reach out to community leaders prior to moving forward with its proposed project. Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke, who also represents the district that includes Temple’s North Philly campus, have both said they don’t a stadium should happen without sufficient input from the neighborhood.
Others, like 181st district Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, have flat-out said the football stadium shouldn’t be constructed and would be bad for the community, especially as many have complained of Temple’s sprawl over the last decade.
“I don’t see how it fits,” Thomas told Billy Penn in February. “These people who have lived here for 40, 50 years, they can’t just pack up and leave.”
Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said the school is committed to working with community members throughout the process and Joyce Wilkerson, a senior adviser to Temple president Neil Theobald, is heading up those efforts. Wilkerson is a former aide to Mayor John Street, who was against the construction of the Liacouras Center in the 90’s.
Betzner said Temple has fielded concerns from citizens ranging from development to parking to traffic to bright lighting, and said the school talks with neighbors “on a regular basis.” He added that the school’s design study, currently underway, will also measure impact on the surrounding community.
Briley said he’s thankful Temple can’t force him out of the home he’s lived in since childhood, but has said he’s been asked on a number of occasions by developers how much they’d have to pay him to pack up and leave so they can install more student apartments where he lives. Each time, he says, he’s told them to get lost.
Raina Johnson, a 27-year-old who lives on Norris Street, initially said she was in favor of the stadium project. She thought it was to be built somewhere near Girard Avenue. Instead, I informed her that the proposed site was across the street from the house that she’s lived in for about a year.
She quickly changed her mind.
“That will be really hectic and things are already hectic around here with all the students,” she said. “The upkeep would be a mess.”
Still, Johnson said, she sees the potential for economic growth and development that a stadium could provide and said she understands why Temple wants to construct one.
The Owls football team had a standout year in 2015, going 10-3 and earning a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game against Houston. The university community’s interest in its football was undoubtedly re-energized, though conversations about building a football stadium on campus have been going on for about two years.
Currently, Temple plays its home games in South Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field, an arrangement that’s been in place with the Eagles since 2003. Temple’s contract with the Eagles, which expires next year, requires the state-related school pay $1.8 million a year. On top of that, the Eagles want Temple to chip in a cool $12 million to cover renovations and then another $3 million annually moving forward. These rates are much higher than a number of colleges that use NFL stadiums for home games.
Temple says it will cover the $100-million-plus price tag, at least $50 million of which is expected to come from alumni donors. Taxpayers aren’t expected to foot the bills for the proposed project.
Neighbors like Freddie Bolden still have their concerns. Bolden, a Norris Street resident, said she hasn’t heard from the university and chalked the behavior up to what’s become an increasingly tense relationship between the neighborhood and the university.
“It’s gotten worse,” Briley said about the relationship the school has with the community as dozens of students walked by on his street. “They do nothing but waste money.”