AALDEF and Advocacy for Racial Civil Justice Clinic Seek Transparency in 76 Place Arena Development

Josh Harris and David Blitzer, Managing Partners of the Philadelphia 76ers, announced the creation of a new development company, 76 Devcorp, responsible for developing the future home of the Philadelphia 76ers on July 21, 2022. Source: 76ers
Philly Talks

New information requests aim to shine a light on Philadelphia and state officials’ backdoor knowledge or involvement in 76 Place dealings, following 90 previously-denied requests

Philadelphia, PA – The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) and the Advocacy for Racial Civil (ARC) Justice Clinic have taken action to uncover the extent of communication between state and city officials and the developers of the controversial 76 Place arena project. The move comes in response to mounting concerns raised by the Save Chinatown Coalition, which has vocally opposed the proposed arena’s impact on local small businesses in Chinatown.

The transparency initiative involves submitting right-to-know requests to city and state agencies involved in the assessment of the 76 Place plan, as well as elected officials who have been in talks with developers since the proposal’s inception. Notably, 76 Place developers have reportedly spent over $2.25 million on direct and indirect lobbying efforts since April 2022. The recipients of these right-to-know requests are expected to respond or request an extension within five business days. The requests target several key areas:

  1. City’s Involvement in Impact Studies: A major focus of the right-to-know requests is the role of the city in the three impact studies commissioned by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, which were financed by the developers. The Chinatown community expected to have a say in the scope of the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and the selection of consultants for these studies. However, their input was largely disregarded, particularly concerning the economic analysis.
  2. Transportation Impact Study: The requests seek to reveal the details of the developer’s transportation impact study, which was conducted privately by the developers themselves.
  3. Property Transactions Around 76 Place Site: The right-to-know requests also explore the city’s knowledge of or involvement in property transactions related to the proposed 76 Place site, including the relocation of the Greyhound bus terminal from Filbert Street to Market Street.

The Save Chinatown coalition had previously submitted approximately 90 right-to-know requests, all of which were denied in a single letter.

Annie Lo, a Skadden Fellow at AALDEF, emphasized the importance of community involvement in decisions that impact their city. She stated, “Community members deserve a say in decisions affecting their city, and part of that is knowing what’s been said by decision makers in the rooms they’re not invited into. These information requests will help shed light on the conversations between elected officials and the developers that have been taking place behind closed doors. As a matter of public interest, information about the arena proposal must be made available to community members—especially those who would be most impacted by the plan.”

Neeta Patel, interim executive director of Asian Americans United, pointed out the need for more transparency in the development process, saying, “76 Place has been a lesson in how development in our city is done and how community voices are deliberately sidelined. Our city officials should be at least as responsive to us, the people who elected them, as they are to developers. We are grateful to AALDEF for their support in bringing more transparency to this process.”

These right-to-know requests aim to illuminate the engagements between city and state officials, agencies, and other key stakeholders involved in the 76 Place development project. They come in the wake of several controversial incidents linked to 76 Place, including the insertion of a provision to strike Filbert Street from the project in a parking garage bill, bankrolling impact studies that were said to be “independent,” undisclosed lobbying efforts that resulted in a $4,000 fine, and donations to a dark-money super PAC currently under investigation for alleged illegal coordination with a pro-arena mayoral candidate.

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