Here’s what we know about the plan released by the 76er‘ Managing partners, to build an NBA arena at 10th and Market Streets. For now, we know the partners estimate the arena will cost $1.3 billion to build. For now, we know the partners are promising to fund the construction without city dollars. We know the plan calls for the arena to be completed by 2031, the same year the Sixers’ lease from the Wells Fargo Center expires.
Here’s what we don’t know: We don’t know what we don’t know. In theory, the arena would open in nine years. Nine years is a long time. The Sixers, the city, the country and the world will change profoundly during this time, and right now we have absolutely no idea how.
Go back nine years to 2013. How many people would have said Donald Trump when asked which person would have the greatest impact on our political life and discourse over the next decade? When asked what kind of event could do the most damage and upheaval to our fragile global balance, how many would have answered that they feared a novel virus the most? Take an example that’s less significant but more relevant: How many Philadelphians even knew who Joel Embiid was in 2013? Today, he’s the main reason the Sixers are so popular that they may be considering building their own basketball palace.
Anyone who likes the idea of a downtown arena probably envisions the city as it is now, and the Sixers as they are now: a team with a superstar in Embiid, a rising star with a lovable personality in Tyrese Maxey and a chance, if all goes well, to win a championship – a team that attracts and interests many people in the area. The same description would have fit another franchise in 2013: the flyers. And remember: 2031 is the exact year that the arena is scheduled to open. By then, Maxey will be 31 years old. Embiid is unlikely to be on the list anymore. And Bronny James may already be wearing it an NBA championship ring or two on his hand.
Critic and author Chuck Klosterman sums up this idea But what if we’re wrong? It is a smart book This suggests that we should be more intellectually humble about the predictions we make. “If you look into the haze of tomorrow,” Klosterman writes, “all is a guess.” We try to imagine the future based on the present, and this exercise is inherently stressful. We’re definitely wrong. Crime is bad in Philly now, so don’t build the arena and Crime in Philly is bad right now, but the arena will make things better and safer are opposite sides of the same coin of mystery and uncertainty.
The status quo will not last. It never does, and we fool ourselves if we think we know how it’s going to change. All we can do is ask the questions that seem most relevant and pertinent in the here and now. So let’s ask a few of them, and let’s hope the Sixers leadership, the city leadership, and the townsfolk ask them, too.
In their previous arena/development proposal at Penn’s Landing, the Sixers also said they would not take any city or state funding. But they were demanding $700 million in tax breaks. Under this new plan – as an author already Neil deMause has raised – Will managing partner Josh Harris and his team pay their full share of payroll, property and sales taxes?
What is the evidence the Sixers could offer for the overweight? research and literature that shows that municipalities get little to no economic benefit from the construction of stadiums and arenas? Why would anyone think this trend will reverse by 2031?
The rise of remote work gives more people more freedom to live where they want; They are no longer necessarily tied to a particular neighborhood or region for a morning commute. How populated will Philadelphia be in 2031 and beyond? Will the fashion district inevitably be a thriving center for restaurants, bars, shops and foot traffic?
Will an arena on the 10th and at the market be as accessible to suburban Sixers fans — and suburban Sixers fan dollars — as the Wells Fargo Center and the rest of the stadium complex in South Philadelphia?
When the Eagles built Lincoln Financial Field, they decided not to equip it with any dome or roof. They felt it was too expensive an investment, and as team president Don Smolenski told me in February 2018, they feared public criticism “for making it ‘too corporate’ for Philadelphia.” But as an open-air stadium in the sometimes cold, sometimes muggy Northeast, the Linc is limited in terms of the non-Eagles events it can accommodate. For example, it would be breathtaking if Philadelphia hosted a Super Bowl. What features would keep the Sixers’ new arena fresh, diverse and prevent it from becoming obsolete 10 years after it opened? 20 years? Thirty?
Nine years ago, the Sixers were a lousy team and they were about to start The Process, which would ensure they would remain a lousy team for years to come. What if they suck again in 2031? Then how many Philadelphians and basketball fans will be so eager and excited to open a new arena?