1-2-3-4-5 New Sixers Arena on the Delaware River?

It was two years ago (but it feels like twenty) that we shared a story that the 76ers would be leaving the Wells Fargo Center at the expiration of their lease, with an eye toward building a new basketball-only stadium at the southwest corner of 30th & Market. Ambit Architecture had designed a gorgeous new building for the local basketball team, and even though the story correctly indicated a number of hurdles to the project, we were optimistic that they would be overcome and were excited to watch hoops in a state of the art facility near 30th Street Station. There was just one problem…

Jokey stadium proposal at 30th & Market

It was a fake story! It was never something that was actually being discussed- we published it on April 1st and successfully “fooled” a number of readers, as we’re wont to do. The very next year we played a similar prank, again with help from Ambit, sharing the fake news that the Phillies would be building a new ballpark on the Delaware River, at Festival Pier. And just so we’re clear, that ain’t happening either.

Perhaps the bigwigs at the Sixers read both of these stories and put them in the idea blender, as the the Inquirer is now reporting that they are working hard to actually build a new arena on the Delaware River, just south of Market Street. This land, which sits just north of Penns Landing, is currently used for a few different purposes including the Blue Cross RiverRink, a surface parking lot, a patch of landscaping, and a swath of I-95. We wouldn’t call any of these the highest and best use for this property, though the RiverRink is a pretty awesome space that gives locals and tourists something to do along the waterfront.

The proposed site
The River Rink

Everyone agrees that Penns Landing is a concrete ocean of suckitude, which is why this public space is lined up for a massive upgrade in the coming years. The centerpiece of the project will be a massive green space in place of the current Penns Landing, including a cap on Delaware Ave. and I-95 between Walnut and Chestnut. On either side of the park, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation plans to partner with private developers to create a mix of residential and commercial uses across multiple new buildings, to bring an unprecedented level of excitement to Philadelphia’s larger waterfront.

We'd rather this plan

We have to say, we’re skeptical of how a new Sixers arena would dovetail with this plan. Even with a full season and a long playoff run, the Sixers only have about fifty nights that they would be using such a building. Add in concerts and various other events, maybe you can add another hundred days that the building would be used, which means it would be unused more than half the time.

But even if it were filled all the time, access would be a real issue. The El has a stop nearby, so that’s a plus. But you have to think that any event would still attract thousands of cars, and we have no idea where you’d put all those vehicles on this relatively small parcel. Even if you could figure out the parking, there would still be a massive traffic issue that would impact neighborhoods up and down Delaware Ave. and probably aggravate neighbors from Northern Liberties down to Pennsport, with Old City the most impacted. The sports complex in South Philly ain’t pretty, but at least there’s a sea of parking and the neighborhood has come to accept the traffic and noise over all these years of living next to stadiums. And the special services district funded by the teams surely takes away some of the sting as well.

The other issue is that the owners of the Sixers would apparently seek some public funds in constructing this new building. Per the Inquirer, the idea is to utilize the “Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) program, which allows development bonds to be issued based on future tax revenues from businesses within a certain area.” and would draw against future city and state tax revenues. As recently as a couple decades ago, that might have been something that made sense for Philadelphia.

But when you consider the development and growth we’ve seen since the 1990s, we don’t need to bankroll a “home run” project (or better yet a “half court shot” project) with public funds. Look, the Wells Fargo Center is a fine stadium, but if the owners of the Sixers want to build a shiny new stadium, that’s totally their prerogative- just don’t ask the Philadelphia taxpayers to pay for it. And maybe they can find another location other than the Delaware Waterfront… like maybe 30th & Market?

While we’re giving out free advice to the Sixers, might we also recommend: 1) set up a clear hierarchy in the front office and get rid of this collaborative decision-making concept 2) hire a new coach that’s good with x’s and o’s and will make Ben shoot 3’s, 3) trade Al Horford for Buddy Hield, 4) find more shooters, do whatever it takes. And we’re happy to provide additional consulting services for a small fee, just let us know.