76ers Attempting To Drum Up Support For New Arena At Penn's Landing
The Philadelphia 76ers are beginning the process of bargaining for a new home.
The team has hired lobbyists to rally support among local politicians for an arena to be constructed at Penn's Landing between Market and Chestnut streets on the Delaware River waterfront, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The team is also testing the waters on what may be a political third rail — taxpayer-assisted financing.
The Sixers are hoping to use the state's Neighborhood Improvement Zone program as a way to offset arena costs, the Inquirer reports. The NIZ was created in 2009 to issue debt and bonds for the construction of a new arena for the Philadelphia Flyers' minor league team in Allentown. Tax revenue generated by the arena, and other businesses within the NIZ, are redirected toward paying down the debt.
Representatives from the 76ers are hoping that the public sees its use of the NIZ program as a way to avoid taking taxpayer money directly, but the proposed use of any public financing at all has already been met with vehement opposition from the progressive wing of the Philadelphia City Council, including Council Member-at-Large Helen Gym.
Politicians that represent the Penn's Landing area directly, including Council member Mark Squilla, state Rep. Mary Isaacson and Mayor Jim Kenney, said they will seek more information about the proposal before taking a position. U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, whose district neighbors the one that includes the proposed arena site, called the arena plan "absurd" on Twitter.
The 76ers confirmed to the Inquirer that a Penn's Landing arena is among the options it is considering for when its lease at the Wells Fargo Center expires in 2031. The Wells Fargo Center, situated among the city's other major sports arenas in South Philly, is owned by Comcast Spectacor and shared with the Philadelphia Flyers (also owned by Comcast Spectacor).
A Penn's Landing arena would run counter to the Delaware River Waterfront Corp.'s master plan for the area, which includes the capping of Interstate 95 just south of the proposed site for a park that would connect the riverfront to the Old City neighborhood after decades of being separated by the highway. The DRWC plan envisions a walkable waterfront stitched together by residential communities.
In the past few years, cities across the U.S. have become more resistant to the prospect of using any tax money to fund sports stadiums, especially cities with representative bodies that skew toward the Democratic Party. After the 2019 citywide election drew city council even further left, the 76ers might not see a lot of friendly faces.
Unlike teams like Oakland's Raiders and Athletics, which could accurately point to current home stadiums with outdated infrastructure and aesthetics, the 76ers' home arena just completed a $250M renovation.
Josh Harris and David Blitzer, the billionaire owners of the 76ers who made their fortunes managing hedge funds, could be looking at owning an arena to put the team's home under its assets list, rather than sign another long-term lease that would appear on the balance sheet as a liability.