Driving through the Camden waterfront, the Sixers new practice facility would go unrecognized without the signs "Future Home of the Philadelphia 76ers" hanging on each side of the fence that encloses the unfinished project. The building still has a long ways to go before completion, but in a few months time the NBA's most expensive and quite possibly most innovative training complex will overlook the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The property which will house both the basketball operations and business offices is 125,000 square feet, with the practice facility taking up 65,000 square feet. According to Sixers CRO Christopher Heck, who spoke at the Urban Land Institute's tour of the complex, it will be the biggest gym in the NBA. Final construction costs will total around $45 million, and total spending will be an estimated $30 million jump from the Sixers' closest competitor. The basketball side of the complex is expected to be ready for training camp in late September, while the business offices will hopefully be ready before the end of the year.
Philadelphia was originally set to break ground on the facility in the Navy Yard, the place where they currently house offices, until they learned of New Jersey's tax credit program. The state agreed to reimburse the organization for every dollar they spend on the project (up to $82 million) over the next 10 years in the form of tax credits. The Sixers cannot spend those tax credits, but they can sell them to other corporations at a small discount.
As Alan Razak of the project's development manager, AthenianRazak LLC, said, "It's hard to beat almost free".
Moving the project to Camden also allowed the team to include new aspects they would not have been able to fit at the original site, and the Sixers feel as though this state of the art complex will not only benefit their own players, but help them look more attractive to potential free agents as well.
"We think this is a place that not only our players will put more hours in and play here because of the amenities and conveniences, but we also believe that this will be the mecca of basketball in the summer time," Heck said. "From D.C. to New York, all the elite college and pro players will come here and we will open our doors to them."
That may mean opening their doors to Team USA basketball as well. Heck mentioned Jerry Colangelo's involvement with both the Sixers and the national team before stating it's a "possibility they could play here down the road."
We owe a big thank you to Dan Levy, writer and editor for Billy Penn, who was on the scene with real camera equipment and generous enough to share his pictures with us:
You wouldn't know it from all the junk laying around at the moment, but this is where the Sixers practice courts will eventually be. When the hardwood is down and all is said and done, there will be two courts and 12 separate hoops in this main gym area.
"The total facility that they occupy at PCOM would fit inside the courts. It's embarrassing, actually. I wouldn't try to train a high school team [at PCOM]," Razak said.
Just off to the side of the courts will be the weight room, where Razak said that there should be an additional two hoops in upon completion in case players need the space to work on things like free throws while the courts are occupied.
The training room (above) and pool/tub area (below) sit just off the court, minimizing the transition from hardwood to the exercise/rehab area.
The pool area has given the construction team quite a few problems and was called "the most difficult part" of the project by Razak. Initial size requirements laid out by the Sixers ended up not working for the space allotted by the building plans, so the pool area will be a tad smaller than they wanted. The pool will feature Hydrowork treadmill tech to allow low-impact rehab for injured players, and glass siding for the pool will allow the team to monitor the underwater movement with video and pictures. Most of the inspiration for the pool area came from a trip the trainers took to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, Australia.
As one of the quirkier items in the facility, the team is also planning on putting a barber's chair in the training room.
The locker room at the facility won't feature anything special outside of TVs all over the walls, but it should prove to be an upgrade over their current digs at The Center. Razak revealed the team has pushed to make changes at their home digs, but because they do not own their arena they've been denied by Comcast, who allegedly have a big renovation plan in the works for several parts of the building.
If you need a reminder of how close the facility is to Philadelphia, the view of the player's lot provides a nice taste of the skyline. The upstairs view is close to the owner's lounge, which will be used sparingly by the owners themselves; members of the marketing team will use it to wine and dine potential clients.
While it may seem like a small detail, the parking lot has been a point of contention at the site. New GM Bryan Colangelo pushed hard for a covered lot / garage for the players, which is part of a number of changes the new executive allegedly wanted for the facility. There will be coverage for their vehicles along the lines of the overhangs in newer lots near Citizens Bank Park and Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly, but time and budget concerns squashed any chance of a full garage.
Colangelo's late inclusion in the process hasn't stopped him from being involved in finalizing plans, some of his wishes stranger than others. The "war room" for draft night was moved according to his instructions, an innocuous enough change, but one notable detail was an upstairs space originally reserved for more ops staff being re-purposed for use by the marketing department. Truth stranger/funnier than fiction, as always.
Above the player's entrance and down the hall from the owner's lounge is the dining room for the coaches and players where they can get a meal just about every hour of the day. This area can seat between 45-50 people, and will have a round table right in the middle for communal dining. There will also be a bar, but there will be no alcoholic beverages.
The building you see off to the left will act as the corporate headquarters for the franchise going forward, uniting all arms of the operation in one area. If you look at the wire-framing at the back of the building in the shot above, that will eventually be a massive sign that Razak joked the Sixers hope you'll be able to see from the moon. At the very least, people traveling over the Ben Franklin Bridge will notice it, as well as those across the river.
As the Sixers focus their basketball related efforts on becoming more competitive than they were the past couple of seasons, Heck mentioned that the training complex is about "mak[ing] a difference in perception in what the new 76ers are becoming."
Once the facility opens, the perception should finally be clear: the Sixers are setting themselves up for long-term success. The complex in Camden is just another piece of the puzzle.