Philadelphia councilmember claims no "oversight" if proposed 76ers arena gets state or federal funding

Rally opposing proposed Philadelphia 76ers arena held outside City Hall

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The 76 Place at Market East team says it has more than 30,000 signatures on a petition in support of a new arena in Center City. The news comes as Philadelphia City Council gaveled in its first full session of 2024 Thursday morning.

Demonstrators with the Save Chinatown Coalition were outside City Hall making their voices heard.

Mohan Seshadri, the executive director of the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance, was among the crowd at the latest in a series of rallies to oppose 76 Place. 

Councilmember Mark Squilla responded to the rally by telling CBS News Philadelphia, "I will not support any public city funding for this project. I do not have oversight on state and federal funding."

Dozens of people attended the rally Thursday morning. Coalition organizers said the point of the rally was to welcome back city councilmembers by reminding them that their opposition to the new arena has not changed.

The group wants to hold Squilla accountable for his commitment to making sure 76 Place does not take city, state or federal money and sending a strong message to City Council that there are Philadelphians widely opposed to a Center City arena.

The group has been vocal against the arena from the beginning, claiming it could have a gentrifying impact on the area.

"100% privately funded is just window dressing, and our taxpayers and everyday Philadelphians could end up subsidizing this project on the backend if City Council doesn't act now to guarantee no public dollars will go into this project," Seshatri said. "And we're once again outside City Hall to welcome in a new administration and a new council that we helped elect and remind them that Philadelphia is unified against an arena in the heart of our city."

David Gould, the Sixers' Chief Diversity and Impact Officer, said they collected 30,000 signatures, including 26,000 across the city, in a grassroots effort of door-knocking and catching people on sidewalks to share why they feel the project is beneficial.  

"We feel confident that when people have accurate information about the project – hear all the benefits that it will bring to Philadelphia that it's something that Philadelphians can get behind," Gould said.

The Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation says the petition doesn't hold much meaning.

"The 76ers can say they have a lot of support for a downtown arena," John Chin, the executive director of the PCDC, said. "I think the issue for Chinatown is its proximity to our neighborhood and its potential impact, which we've clearly identified as problematic."

Chin also pointed out that the 26,000 signatures only amount to 2% of the entire city's population.

76 Place developers have argued that the potential new arena could have a major economic impact on the city.

Both sides feel the public is on their side.

Meanwhile, as of right now, there's no legislation in front of city council to consider the project. City council is currently waiting on the results of a comprehensive community impact report, which was commissioned by former Mayor Jim Kenney. 

A council spokesperson says that's not expected until at least February – and only then – will Squilla decide when to introduce legislation. 

Mayor Cherelle Parker's office has yet to respond for a request to comment on this story. 

CBS Philadelphia's Eva Andersen contributed to this story. 

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