The expanded proposal for a Philadelphia 76ers arena would fundamentally transform the area around the downtown stadium, and questions remain unanswered about how the organization can achieve it.
While details are scarce, the latest description of the project would replace the westernmost block of the Fashion District, the Greyhound Bus Terminal building and the adjacent block of Filbert Street behind the property.
The proposed purchase of nearly 200,000 square feet blindsided some Chinatown neighbors and elected officials, while also raising hurdles to acquiring a downtown road, a longtime bus depot and existing mall tenants.
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Here’s what we know about some of the unresolved questions facing the 76 and their allies.
Shifting Filbert Street from public to private control would require legislation from the City Council. Road trades aren’t uncommon — but it remains unclear whether the Sixers have the political backing to make it happen just yet.
City Councilman Mark Squilla, whose authorization would be needed to make that transfer in his district, said the Sixers’ plan is too vague as it stands and lacks community input from Chinatown and surrounding businesses.
“It’s too early,” he said. “They don’t have a complete plan yet.”
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Granting that portion of Filbert would also require a traffic mitigation plan and other zoning adjustments to ensure the crossing remains active even when there is no game or event being held at the theoretical stadium.
Keisha McCarty-Skelton, spokeswoman for the Roads Department, said officials are in ongoing talks with the Sixers organization regarding land-use logistics, as well as “calculating real estate taxes and community engagement.”
The block immediately west of the Filbert Street target area has been earmarked for periodic closure from at least 2019 to serve as a pedestrian plaza for the popular Reading Terminal Market. This proposal would leave Filbert open to vehicular traffic most of the time.
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The stadium proposal would destroy a third of the newly developed Fashion District.
Originally hailed as a commercial anchor for the struggling Eastern Market corridor, the three-block mall was meant to replace the 1970s-era Gallery Mall and its eclectic mix of downmarket but beloved stores.
But the Fashion District struggled badly during the pandemic and its recovery has been slow. In March, Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a co-owner of the mall, reported that its total occupancy was 78.1% — nearly 10% less than the next lowest-performing mall in its multi-state portfolio.
“I think everyone will agree and agree that the Fashion District just isn’t working,” said Steven Gartner, executive vice president at real estate services and investment firm CBRE, which is not involved in the mall. or the 76ers transaction.
Co-owner and other manager of the Fashion District’s day-to-day operations, California-based real estate investment trust Macerich, has embraced the 76ers’ proposal. On the company’s second-quarter earnings call, CEO Tom O’Hern said tenants would only be moved out of their current building, not the entire property.
“The reality today is that we have available space,” O’Hern said.
It’s not yet clear where all of the affected Fashion District tenants fall under the proposal.
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The site of the Greyhound terminal once housed part of the Harrison Courthouse, a historic structure that was being converted into offices and stores in 1984 when a welding torch ignited a catastrophic fire. Both Harrison and nearby buildings were demolished the following year and the land was sold for conversion to a bus depot in 1986.
Greyhound has leased the drab, one-story building on Filbert Street for decades, even as ownership of the 47,000-square-foot lot changed hands.
Criterion Holdings LLC, a New York-based real estate company, has owned the land since 2006 — but there have been signs of interest in selling it for years. As Eastern Market has attracted thousands of apartments in recent years, Criterion began actively marketing the site for redevelopment, with renderings depicting a generic high-rise tower in its place.
Criterion and Greyhound did not return requests for comment.
But that operator has struggled to find an alternative terminal site, even as the sale of other adjacent plots prevented buses from leaving.
Anuj Gupta, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.), told the Inquirer that the bus company only has a few years left on its lease. In the past, city officials have considered moving the bus depot to the 30th Street Station — where other intercity bus lines pick up passengers — or to the now-defunct police administration building known as the Roundhouse, at Seventh Streets and of the Race.
Staff writer Joseph N. DiStefano contributed reporting.