It’s no secret the Philadelphia 76ers are looking for a new home, but until this week, the effort to move out of the Wells Fargo Center had been quiet since summer 2020, when the team’s ownership group lost its bid to site a stadium on the Delaware River waterfront. Now the issue is back in conversation.
Several Philadelphians reported receiving a Monday evening push poll that asked for opinions on a potential new basketball arena, and even floated three potential locations.
So, here come the Sixers! But where, exactly? The three options listed in the survey, according to screenshots posted to Twitter, were a nonspecific site in Camden, N.J.; the Philadelphia Navy Yard in South Philly; and the Fashion District/former Gallery Mall in Center City.
It’s unclear if these sites are actually under consideration, however, because it’s unclear who sent the poll.
Asked by Billy Penn, the 76ers said only that the organization is “continuing to explore options for when our lease expires in 2031,” per communications director Molly Mita McEndy.
The franchise has said its relationship with Comcast Spectator — which owns Wells Fargo Center, as well as the Flyers — is on good terms. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve been eyeing a move for years now.
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Comcast Spectator is in the midst of a $300 million Wells Fargo Center renovation. But Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which bought the team in 2011, is likely looking to reap the rewards of having their own stadium.
It would allow the franchise to cash in on non-sports events like big-ticket music concerts and other events. That’s how the Golden State Warriors’ new Chase Center has boosted the organization’s revenue since 2019. No longer sharing a floor with the Flyers in Wells Fargo would also give the team more liberty to craft their own schedule.
Monday’s push poll asked about more than just a new location. It also sought opinions about how open respondents were to seeing taxpayer dollars go towards the project.
What are the implications of these two questions, as the Sixers continue the search for a new home court? Here’s what we know:
How realistic are the locations mentioned in the survey?
Putting a sports stadium in Center City has been floated before. How’d it go? Just ask the Phillies.
At the turn of the millennium, the city’s baseball franchise unveiled plans to build a new ballpark at 12th and Vine streets. The effort was halted after vigorous protests about disruption from Chinatown residents, businesses, and other Philadelphians. Now-Councilmember/then-activist Helen Gym was quoted in the Daily Pennsylvanian saying “we won’t let” the stadium rise.
Over the past couple of decades, the trend of downtown stadium construction has taken off, bringing Milwaukee’s Finserv Forum, Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Since every city is different, there’s no reason these examples would mitigate community concerns about the impact a Sixers arena might have on Chinatown.
Would the Philadelphia Navy Yard work better? The fast developing site at the southern tip of the city is host to many forthcoming projects, as outlined in a recently revamped plan for the area that includes nearly 9 million square feet of new development and $6 billion of investment.
It’s also the location closest to the current sports complex — and a potential extension of the Broad Street Line to the Navy Yard has been considered by SEPTA, which would make games easily accessible by public transit.
Camden is an outlier, even though it’s where the Sixers opened a 125,000 square-foot practice facility in 2016. After the proposal to relocate to Penn’s Landing was shot down in 2020, leaders at the 76ers organization told the Inquirer they were “committed to the city of Philadelphia.”
But public funding could change the balance of that equation.
Would a new arena require taxpayer funding?
Professional sports stadiums are infamous for being built with varying levels of public funds, and threatening to leave a locale to boost a package of tax breaks or public amenities has been used time and again, even if it’s just a bluff.
One of the sticking points in the 76ers’ Penn’s Landing proposal was the creation of a Neighborhood Improvement Zone, a public financing arrangement that allows developers in a specific area to use state and local taxes funds for their projects. Pennsylvania’s sole NIZ was established in Allentown by the state legislature in 2009, and has been the subject of many inquiries since then.
Academics and politicians have offered conflicting reports on the efficacy of the Allentown NIZ, with scholars saying it’s fallen short of its promise and officials claiming things are working as planned. When Penn’s Landing was floated as a site, elected officials weighed in. Councilmember Cherelle Parker wanted to at least review the plan because it “could possibly create good union jobs.” Councilmember Mark Squilla and U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans also spoke in favor of the plan, while Councilmember Gym came out in opposition: “HELL NO,” she wrote on Twitter.
If the Sixers still want to establish a NIZ, the plan would need to be approved by the state legislature. Otherwise, capital investment through municipal bonds or funneling funds from other taxes would simply require the approval from Council and the mayor.
Comcast Spectacor has noted that the Wells Fargo Center — even with all the pricey new renovations — does not utilize public funds.