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Student and community organizers marched down Walnut Street on Nov. 18 to protest the building of a 76ers arena near Chinatown. Credit: Derek Wong

Nearly 100 Penn students and Philadelphia residents marched from College Hall to the Campus Apartments headquarters on Friday to demand the halt of the development of the proposed Philadelphia 76ers arena in Chinatown.

David Adelman — the CEO of Campus Apartments, a housing company that serves Penn students — currently serves as chairman of 76 Devcorp, a new private development company behind the proposed arena.

“A lot of people don't understand why an arena is so harmful, especially to low-income communities,” Kaia Chau, a junior at Bryn Mawr College and protest organizer, told The Daily Pennsylvanian. "But the purpose of an arena is to keep business inside of the arena — if you put one right next to Chinatown, the business is going to go away, not to mention the increase in traffic, which will have really bad environmental and health impacts." 

The protest, organized by Students for the Preservation Of Chinatown, a coalition of students against the proposed 76ers arena, was held in conjunction with the Coalition to Save the UC Townhomes and student activist groups from Penn and Drexel University.

Students from the Tri-College Consortium, an academic collaboration between Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges, as well as students from local Philadelphia high schools also attended in support.

The march began with a rally in front of College Hall. Debbie Wei, one of the founders of Asian American United — an advocacy organization centered around Asian and Asian American communities in Philadelphia — and SPOC founders Chau and College sophomore Taryn Flaherty spoke on Chinatown’s repeated battles since the 1970s against gentrification and predatory development.

College sophomore Kenny Chiu, the founder of Fridges and Family — a nonprofit organization that combats food insecurity in Philadelphia — spoke on the value he placed in the community that Chinatown provides for Asian Americans.

“[Chinatown is a] place where we can find familiar faces,” Chiu told the DP. “Me and my friends used to make the walk from South Philly to Chinatown almost every day to go there and play basketball or get boba. All that culture and welcoming spaces and love — that can’t be touched by anyone.”

College senior Gigi Varlotta, a student organizer with the Coalition to save the UC Townhomes, condemned Adelman for his role in the displacement of low-income Philadelphia residents.

“Both the fight to save Chinatown and the fight to save the UC townhomes are a fight for the communities that have been here for decades, the communities that have built the city,” Varlotta said. “It's a fight against billionaire developers and big corporations who want to come into Black and brown communities and buy the land, buy the property, all for profit. It's about letting the people who are from the city continue to live and thrive here.”

Mel Hairston, a resident of the University City Townhomes, encouraged protestors to speak out and protect local communities against displacement and corporate development.

“You can’t step on the backs of the people when the people stand up,” Hairston said.

The protest paused to rally in front of Huntsman Hall against the involvement of 1986 Wharton graduate Joshua Harris and 1991 Wharton graduate David Blitzer —  76ers shareholders who SPOC said have made millions off of gentrification in West Philadelphia — as developers of the proposed arena before continuing to march to the Campus Apartments headquarters located at 40th and Walnut streets.

Demonstrators carried banners and homemade signs while chanting slogans such as, “David Adelman, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go.”

Chau and Flaherty stated that SPOC’s main focus was to utilize student voices to highlight the relationship between the proposed arena’s developers and Penn.

“So many Penn students go to Chinatown,” Flaherty told the DP. “They enjoy the food, the fun, the festivities — and that’s fine. We want you to love Chinatown as much as we love Chinatown. But where are you when all these cultural goods that you consume are under attack?”