Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Nov. 18 to demand billionaire David Adelman stop the predatory development of a new Philadelphia 76ers basketball arena in Chinatown. Organized by the Students for the Preservation of Chinatown, the rally and march linked the struggle of residents from West Philadelphia’s University City Townhomes fighting eviction with organizers from Chinatown, facing yet another effort by sleazy developers to destroy their community through major construction projects.
Protesters gathered in front of the University of Pennsylvania administrative building. Students and UC Townhomes residents have been demonstrating for months to expose UPenn’s historic role in the destruction of neighboring Black communities, through the decades-long expansion of University City. They are calling on the Ivy League university — which has avoided paying property taxes — to make reparations to the Townhomes residents from its multibillion-dollar endowment.
David Adelman is the CEO of Campus Apartments, which has been key to the university’s expansion through the construction of multiple high-rise student housing units, faculty condos and an extended-stay hotel. The company has more than $2 billion in assets. Adelman and Brett Altman, who owns UC Townhomes, both sit on Drexel University’s Real Estate Advisory Council.
In July, it was announced that Adelman would chair 76 Devcorp, a new company responsible for developing 76 Place at Market East, the proposed new arena in Center City. In October, Adelman became co-owner of the 76ers and the New Jersey Devils.
The planned $1.3 billion, 18,500-seat NBA basketball arena in Chinatown threatens to raise rents and overwhelm the area with traffic during games. The experience of other urban centers shows sports facilities drive away elderly and lower-income residents, who don’t want to live in an area that resembles the dead zone around arenas and stadiums.
Philadelphia’s Chinatown, which includes 4,000 residents and scores of small businesses, is the last remaining community of color in Center City Philadelphia and one of the last vital and thriving Chinatowns on the East Coast.
Speaking at the rally, Deborah Wei from Asian Americans United described how many times over several decades residents have fought off efforts by developers to destroy their community through construction projects — a multi-lane expressway (1980), a baseball stadium (2000) and a casino (2009). As she spoke, Wei peeled off T-shirt after T-shirt with the same basic layout as today’s opposing the arena, each with a different developer’s end dream.
Kenny Chiu, a UPenn student, and organizer with Save the UC Townhomes, spoke of growing up in South Philadelphia but frequently spending time in Chinatown with friends and family. The displacement of Chinatown’s residents mirrors the displacement of the Black Bottom neighborhood in West Philadelphia, where UC Townhomes residents have been fighting eviction by gentrifiers and developers for months.
The rally was followed by a march on UPenn’s campus, with a stop at Wharton School of Business, notorious for promoting developers. Demonstrators then marched to Campus Housing at Walnut and 41st Streets. A popular chant along the way was “From West Philly to Chinatown, corporate greed is going down!”