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A crowd of people marches from Chinatown to City Hall, opposing the plans to build an arena in the district on June 10. Credit: Nathaniel Babitts

Marchers rallied on Saturday against the proposed construction of a 76ers arena on the edge of Chinatown. 

Attendees marched for about four hours in protest of the $1.3 billion project, which has raised concerns about gentrification from students and residents. Organizers estimated that more than 3,500 people were in attendance, while the Philadelphia Police Department claimed the number was around 500 to 700.  

The event was originally slated to take place on April 29. However, it was ultimately postponed due to heavy rain.

Organized by Asian Americans United and the Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance, the demonstration began with a march at 10th and Vine streets and ended at City Hall. Many local activist and student-led organizations — including the Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, Juntos, and POWER Interfaith — were in attendance. 

Various community members and leaders spoke at the event, including rising College junior and SPOC co-founder Taryn Flaherty, Pennsylvania state Rep. and 2022 School of Nursing Ph.D. graduate Tarik Khan, and Asian Americans United co-founder Debbie Wei. Interpreters were available to translate speeches from English to Chinese. 

“This arena would be horrible for the city,” Khan said at the rally. “It would destroy Chinatown. This would cause traffic congestion and parking nightmares for years even before it's completed. This would be six years of demolition and chaos for our city.”

A statement from 76 Devcorp, the private development company behind the arena’s proposal, said that the arena will not be built in Chinatown, and that $50 million will go towards community development around the proposed site, which is one block away from the Chinatown Friendship Gate.   

“As we continue to develop a meaningful plan to ensure the arena project can positively impact Philadelphia and its residents, it is disappointing to see some groups claiming to represent the broader interests of the city irresponsibly spreading misinformation about our proposed plans,” the statement on 76 Devcorp’s website said. 

76 Devcorp declined The Daily Pennsylvanian’s request for comment and cited its website for all updates and information. 

SPOC co-founders Flaherty and rising Bryn Mawr College senior Kaia Chau spoke at the rally about the connections that many developers have with universities across Philadelphia. 

“Knowing all of the connections that the developers of this arena have to our universities, specifically to Penn, it's our responsibility and our duty as citizens of this city to let people know about the arena — about the connections — to protest the arena and to protest our universities,” Flaherty told the DP. 

76 Devcorp Chair David Adelman is also CEO of Campus Apartments, which provides off-campus housing to Penn students, and a member of the Penn Board of Trustees. SPOC previously held a protest on March 3 demanding the removal of all trustees involved with 76 Devcorp.

Former Philadelphia mayoral candidate and 1993 College graduate Helen Gym attended the march. Gym, who is also a 1996 graduate of the Graduate School of Education and Flaherty’s mother, was committed to the “preservation and expansion” of Chinatown throughout her time as a city councilmember and mayoral candidate. 

“This is a huge demonstration of the people's will around preservation of neighborhoods over the greed of developers,” Gym said to the DP. “It's important for the city to recognize that it thrives and grows when there's a thriving and growing Chinatown. That is not going to happen if we prioritize Big Business, Big Box development.”

The proposed 76ers stadium is not the first property development to have a potential impact on Chinatown. In 2000, a similar protest — in which Gym was also a participant — occurred to oppose a proposed Phillies stadium near Chinatown, which ultimately never came to fruition. 

“The reason why young people like me have been able to enjoy Chinatown is because of the previous fights from other generations before us,” rising College junior and SPOC organizer Kenny Chiu said. “We're really thankful for all the previous generations who have protected Chinatown.” 

Rising Wharton junior and Philadelphia native Kai Mai echoed Chiu’s sentiments and looked toward the future. 

“I've lived here my entire life, and I just want to preserve it for future generations and do what I can now,” Mai said.