It’s not “Game Over” for the Sixers search, and there is no reason to throw up a half-court desperation heave. There are still a few other possible landing spots.
Time is nearing for a new 76ers arena
The Sixers have made it clear they do not intend to rent the Wells Fargo Center (owned by Comcast Spectacor) beyond the expiration of their lease in 2031. Despite the continuing renovations that tallied about $250 million and included two sports betting lounges, the Sixers are tired of renting and want to own.
For sports franchises and owners like Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Sixers, the best business decisions aren’t about players but places. When you own a venue, you own the development rights and collect rent from every concert promoter, trade show and college team to whom you lease the space.
The Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Rams and Texas Rangers all have opened billion-dollar palaces with accompanying retail, residential and commercial buildings in the last year.
Sixers search for a home
With Penn’s Landing out, where does that leave the Sixers?
They have options. Of course, matters like who pays for it/tax incentives and infrastructure will ultimately drive the decision.
Building another arena next to the existing one doesn’t make economic sense. Competing for events like concerts and other sports events would make it hard for either building to turn a profit. A new arena will need to be somewhat removed geographically from the existing Sports Complex and have the opportunity to develop other uses with it.
Wherever the Sixers decide to go next, it surely will be into a venue that they control. The design, the location, the naming rights, all will be to maximize HBSE’s revenue. The year 2031 may seem like forever from now, but in the business of arenas, it’s just around the corner.
It also gives us time to speculate. Here are three locations the Sixers should consider for their new home.
Across the river
Sixers owner HBSE already has much of its business in New Jersey. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and company practice in a facility on the Camden Waterfront. HBSE also owns the New Jersey Devils NHL franchise and the Prudential Center in downtown Newark. An arena in South Jersey would firmly plant all their flags in the Garden State.
However, the State of New Jersey is already trying to recover some of the $80 million in tax breaks given to the team for their practice facility. With the Sixers’ desire for some tax incentives, this may be harder than once envisioned.
The South Jersey Sixers? Uh, probably never going to happen (at least the name change). But flirting with a move across the river might scare some elected officials into helping keep the team in Philadelphia. It worked before.
Hoops in the Yard
With their attempt to shoehorn a new arena into Penn’s Landing, Harris Blitzer was trying to cash in on an existing development instead of trying to join one that is being built more on their timeline. Maybe they were focused on the wrong end of Market Street.
The $3.5 billion Schuylkill Yards project is a long-term development planned by Brandywine Realty Trust in conjunction with Drexel University. Adjacent to 30th Street Station, it has the space to accommodate a basketball venue over the existing rail tracks, with great access to mass transit.
The downside for the Sixers is the development is already being steered by Brandywine, and HBSE will want to control the land around its arena. Getting a sports venue next to 30th Street has been tried many times before with no success.
Forging a new sports frontier
The population of the City of Philadelphia is estimated at 1.58 million. The Delaware Valley region is four times that. It’s long past time we started thinking regionally when it comes to economic growth and look at the Philadelphia Metropolitan area as a whole and not just the city.
The Atlanta Braves moved out of their downtown home in 2017 into a new development in suburban Cobb County. There are several employment centers in the Philadelphia region that easily connect to the highway network and are accessible (or can be made accessible) to mass transit, with room for ancillary development. A new arena in an existing commercial area would diversify the local economy.
Possible choices for a suburban Philadelphia Sixers arena:
- Bensalem: There is lots of space around Parx Casino. In 2019, the Sixers teamed up with the casino for a “Win for All” promo. The Eagles, Phillies and Flyers will soon have a casino as a neighbor with Live! Casino Philadelphia. The Sixers can do the same with the highest-grossing casino in PA.
- Willow Grove: The former Naval Air Station–Joint Reserve Base in Willow Grove property is being redeveloped.
- King of Prussia: Are malls dying? Only if they don’t diversify. The second-largest mall in the United States should be thinking about what the push-of-a-button-add-to-cart future looks like. An arena at/around the mall that is home to the Sixers, some Villanova games, concerts and shows … now that’s something even Amazon can’t deliver.