Op-Ed: The Construction of the 76ers Arena in Chinatown will not Revitalize Market East

<p>Protestors gathered in Chinatown before marching to City Hall on June 10, 2023, during the ‘No Arena Chinatown’ Protest</p>

Protestors gathered in Chinatown before marching to City Hall on June 10, 2023, during the ‘No Arena Chinatown’ Protest

The opening of the 76ers basketball arena is not the solution for reviving Philadelphia Center City, nor will it ever be.

On July 21, 2022, the Sixers Arena proposal was announced to the public after months of whispering behind closed doors. It would be built between 10th and 11th along Market Street, taking up a third of the Fashion District’s building space. The plan is supposed to bring Center City Philadelphia back to life but destroy the decades of community history in the historical Chinatown.

Rooted deep in Philadelphia's history is its Chinatown, known for its diverse and colorful Asian cuisine. It began in 1871 as a laundromat, expanding along the 900 block of Race Street as a safe haven for Chinese immigrants looking for a welcoming place to stay. This area would be known as the “red-light district” in Philadelphia or unsafe and undesirable areas of Philadelphia, but this was the only place immigrants would feel at home.

Thus, the community of Chinatown, built on everyone’s struggles for acceptance, was born.

However, Chinatown would soon face multiple challenges involving gentrification and occupation of their land. In 1966, the announcement of the construction of the Vine St Expressway meant the demolition of the Holy Redeemer Chinese Catholic church and school.

Chinatown would then be boxed in on all sides, preventing any possible expansion outwards. Led by Cecilia Moy Yep, known as the godmother of Chinatown, residents gathered to discuss a counter-strategy against the government’s plans that would seriously impact the community. Their hard work paid off, and the Holy Redeemer church and school were spared.

In 2000, the city yet again set its sights on Chinatown, announcing a major threat: the construction of the baseball stadium on 11th and Vine streets. This would flood the streets with illegal parking and traffic during games, severely impacting nearby residents and business owners. PCDC (Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation) organized and formed partnerships with local as well as national Asian American organizations, filing a lawsuit to keep the stadium out of Chinatown.

Thousands marched to City Hall, demanding the cancellation of the stadium. Mayor Street ended up moving the stadium to South Philadelphia, and the threat subsided.

Hundreds of Chinatown residents protest the proposed Phillies stadium | Photo credits: Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation.

But this was not the end. History would repeat itself when private developers announced their plan to relocate their 76ers arena to the block of 11th and Market streets in an attempt to generate more income at the cost of the community. The arrival of this arena would raise the value of land in Chinatown, which meant higher rent and mortgages and overwhelm the already packed streets of Center City with more traffic. 

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In June 2023, thousands marched from 10th and Vine streets to City Hall, protesting against the arena’s construction. Boxes of a petition with over 15,000 signatures were passed to each Council member, asking them to take an official stand against the arena’s construction.

In a press conference with Councilmember Squilla, he tells his constituents, “There will have to be some type of legislation introduced in order for the proposal to move forward. That legislation would have to be introduced by me… I made a commitment that I would share that legislation with the community ahead of time, get feedback, and only if supported by the community would that legislation be able to move forward.”

Councilmember Squilla, at a press conference in the Chinese Christian Church and Center | Photo credits: Alejandro A. Alvarez, The Inquirer

With the clear opposition to the arena and the fact that he holds the power to save Chinatown, we must pressure Councilmember Squilla to keep his word. Don’t just sit and watch - come join our fight! By showing the community’s stance on this project through protests and rallies, we can demand the changes we want to be made.


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