If 76DevCorp’s priority really is revitalizing Market East, then an arena is the wrong project. According to a report which looked at 130 economic studies over 30 years, there is little to no economic gain to a city in regard to stadiums. The report suggests that a decade after stadium construction, housing supply and vacancy rates increase within a one-mile radius of the stadium, but median property values across the city are flat. The Brookings Institute comes to the same conclusion: “In every case, the conclusions are the same. A new sports facility has an extremely small (perhaps even negative) effect on overall economic activity and employment.“ Expert economists concur: “Pretty much any study done by anyone anywhere that is credible and independent looking at sports stadiums finds that they have next to no impact on the local economy.” 76ers minority owner David Adelman said that he means “no disrespect to Chinatown, but there’s multiple constituencies that benefit from this arena besides Chinatown.”
I struggle to find them, as do leading economists.
With sights set on decades of profits, developers like 76DevCorp might snatch up the land that is valuable, build something big, kickstart the gentrifying, and in 30 years demolish the arena in order to build high rise condos in its place. Contemporary stadium development aims to build a city within a city, like Jerry Jones’s Frisco outside of Dallas, that houses the Cowboys stadium, the Dallas Cowboys headquarters, a hotel, condominiums, numerous high-end restaurants, retail outlets, and entertainment venues. Frisco does not resemble a city so much as a playground — and income stream — for the ultra-wealthy. There are no schools, no religious institutions, and no healthcare in Frisco, or in other analogous urban stadium communities. The arena isn’t the profit generator — destroying a community (and its public and civic infrastructure) is. It would be a strategic city planning mistake, and a moral misstep, to allow 76DevCorp’s arena plans to proceed in Center City.
The development of our city and our community should be determined by the people who live here, who use our public spaces. Although 76DevCorp claims to not take any public subsidy, they will benefit from the 30 year tax increment financing arrangement in place with the Fashion District owners, and are open to accepting state funding and subsidy.
If we are committed to building a lively and safe city, building projects must be planned and considered as the public goods they truly are, not as private profit generators, subsidized by taxpayers.
Akira Drake Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of City & Regional Planning at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Diverging Space for Deviants: The Politics of Atlanta’s Public Housing.