Activists blocked bill that could have fast-tracked plan for new 76ers arena in Chinatown

Members of Philadelphia's Chinatown community say their activism against a plan to build a new 76ers arena prevented city leaders from clearing a major hurdle that may have fast-tracked the controversial proposal. 

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A recent bill proposed in Philadelphia City Council that called to refinance a parking garage in Chinatown included a clause to remove a chunk of Filbert Street between 10th and 11th streets from the city grid. That location is where developers hope to build a new arena within the next 10 years. 

"It was such an underhanded, sneaky, stealth move that it was just disappointing," Ellen Somekawa said. 


Councilman Mark Squilla, who authored the bill, said the clause was written by outside attorneys, and he initially believed the language was agreed upon by city administration. When Squilla learned the administration did not ask for the clause to be included in the bill and was met with concerns, he says he decided to excluded it. 

Nearly 40 Chinatown leaders and supporters testified against the project during a Wednesday council meeting, including residents, business owners and people who work in the area. 

"They're trying to ignore the voice of Chinatown," Wei Chen said. "This is my community, we are not moving, we will stay here strongly." 

Those opposed to the project are claiming a small victory for roadblocking the plan from potentially being fast-tracked, but they will remain diligent in their fight to strike down the plan. 

"What's frightening is how much do we have to track everything going on at City Hall? How are we going to know what deals are being made behind closed doors," Somekawa said.