On Wednesday, the Philadelphia Inquirer released a story detailing how Sixers ownership is exploring the possibility of building a new basketball arena at Penn’s Landing and lobbying local officials to have the project receive taxpayer support. As a reminder, the team’s lease at the Wells Fargo Center, owned by Comcast Spectacor, expires in 2031.
It should be noted that taxpayer support would not come via direct taxpayer dollars from the city, but through the state’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ) Program. In an article Thursday, PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck summarized what exactly that means:
“The Neighborhood Improvement Zone program (NIZ for short) is at the center of the proposal, which would allow for bonds to be issued on future revenue produced by the project.
What does that actually mean in practice? The site of the proposal currently generates no revenue for the city of Philadelphia or the state. The Sixers contend the city would gain revenue from the future project, and that they would take a portion of that revenue, which they would only characterize as “a small portion,” rather than a specific number.”
However, public opinion has drastically shifted in recent years around any sort of taxpayer assistance for privately-owned arenas. Apollo Management Group purchased the Sixers in 2011 for $280 million. Earlier this year, Forbes valued the franchise at $2 billion. Josh Harris alone has a reported net worth of $4.9 billion. The idea that any sort of future tax revenue in the area should funnel back to billionaires instead of education, healthcare, public works...(I could go on, but you’re living through 2020, you get it)...seems laughable to a lot of people.
Here are Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym’s thoughts on the subject:
A reminder that billionaire Josh Harris kicked off his coronavirus heroism by threatening to cut his employees” pay, and now amidst record unemployment, wants a taxpayer funded playpen. Yo @sixers, I can’t WAIT to meet your stadium lobbyist!— Helen Gym (@HelenGymPHL) August 26, 2020
Of course, even if this Penn’s Landing proposal seems so unlikely that it could star alongside Charlize Theron in a Long Shot sequel, it doesn’t take the most cynical among us to envision Sixers ownership having a different end game in mind.
Just for clarification, #Sixers ownership is not seeking huge city concessions/funding/tax breaks on a Penns Landing arena because they think they will get it. They are doing so to justify jumping the river to Camden, where they know they will.— Bob Ford (@bobfordsports) August 27, 2020
As noted in the original Inquirer article, “The push for a new arena comes six years after the New Jersey Economic Development Authority awarded the Sixers $82 million in corporate tax breaks to build a 120,000-square-foot practice facility in Camden. The team also won a property tax abatement.”
Ownership wanting to move the team across the river has long been a bubbling undercurrent in the Sixers rumor mill. With apologies to all the fine New Jersey-based Sixers fans out there, having to regularly cross state lines to attend games would be an dreadful scenario for those in PA. Navigating bridge traffic after major events in Camden is awful, and you’re looking at another transfer onto PATCO if you’re taking public transit.
Plus, while I’ll acknowledge the South Philly arena area isn’t the most scenic of places, there is something great about having a centralized location for “Philly sports.” Fans have some amazing times on those “doubleheader days,” whether it’s a Phillies-Sixers day-night in early April, Eagles-Sixers in the winter, or the rare “flip the arena” for Flyers-Sixers. Even if a workable Philadelphia downtown location ever came about for the Sixers, part of me would miss the South Philly hub.
We’re likely still years away from any resolution on this Sixers arena situation. Regardless, we’ll keep an eye out for any developments. In the meantime, Sixers ownership, maybe worry a little less about where the team will play in 2031, and a little more about conducting a genuine overhaul of the front office.