Sixers arena proposal impact on Fashion District, Greyhound, Filbert Street

The expanded proposal for a Philadelphia 76ers arena would radically transform the area around the downtown stadium, and questions remain about how the organization could pull it off.

While details are few, the latest description of the project would supplant the westernmost block of the Fashion District, the Greyhound bus terminal building, and the adjacent block of Filbert Street behind the property.

The proposed nearly 200,000-square-foot acquisition blindsided some Chinatown neighbors and elected officials, while also raising hurdles about the takeover of a downtown city street, a longtime bus depot, and existing mall tenants.

» READ MORE: Proposed Sixers arena site would expand across Filbert Street

Here’s what we know about some outstanding questions facing the 76ers and their allies.

Moving Filbert Street from public to private control would require legislation from the City Council. Street transfers are not uncommon — but it remains unclear whether the Sixers arena has the political support for that to happen yet.

City Councilmember Mark Squilla, whose authorization would be needed to make that transfer in his district, said the Sixers plan is too vague as it stands and lacks community input from Chinatown and surrounding businesses.

“It’s so early,” he said. “They don’t even have a whole plan yet.”

» READ MORE: Meet the billionaires behind the Sixers’ new arena plans — and another who may prefer the team stay put

Giving over that part of Filbert would also require a traffic mitigation plan and other zoning adjustments to ensure the throughway remains activated even when there is no game or event being hosted in the theoretical stadium.

Keisha McCarty-Skelton, spokesperson for the Streets Department, said officials are in ongoing talks with the Sixers organization about land use logistics, as well as “calculation of real estate taxes and community engagement.”

The block immediately to the west of the targeted Filbert Street area has notably been eyed for periodic closure since at least 2019 to serve as a pedestrian plaza for the popular Reading Terminal Market. That proposal would leave Filbert open to auto traffic most of the time.

» READ MORE: How the Sixers’ proposed new arena vaults them into the NBA arms race: ‘We’re really only limited by our imagination’

The stadium proposal would demolish a third of the newly developed Fashion District.

Originally hailed as a commercial anchor for the struggling East Market corridor, the three-block long shopping center was meant to replace the 1970s-era Gallery mall and its eclectic mix of down market but beloved stores.

But the Fashion District struggled badly during the pandemic and its recovery has been slow. In March, the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust, a co-owner of the mall, reported that its total occupancy was 78.1% — nearly 10% less than the next lowest-performing mall in its multi-state portfolio.

“I think everybody would acknowledge and agree the Fashion District just isn’t working,” said Steven Gartner, executive vice president at the commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE, which is not involved in the mall or the 76ers transaction.

The Fashion District’s other co-owner and manager of day-to-day operations, California-based real estate investment trust Macerich, has embraced the 76ers proposal. On the company’s second quarter earnings call, CEO Tom O’Hern said tenants would be displaced only from their current building, not the entire property.

“The reality is today we’ve got available space,” O’Hern said.

It’s not yet clear where all of the impacted Fashion District tenants stand on the proposal.

» READ MORE: White flight and fast fashion meant Market Street never got the attention it deserved. Could the 76ers change that?

The Greyhound terminal site once hosted a portion of the Harrison Court building, a historic structure that was being converted to offices and shops in 1984 when a welding torch ignited a catastrophic fire. Both the Harrison and nearby buildings were demolished the following year and the land sold off for conversion into a bus depot in 1986.

Greyhound has leased the drab, one-story building on Filbert Street for decades, even as the ownership of the 47,000-square-foot parcel changed hands.

Criterion Holdings LLC, a New York-based real estate company, has owned the land since 2006 — but there have been signs of interest in selling for years. As East Market has attracted thousands of apartments in recent years, Criterion began actively marketing the site for redevelopment, with renderings depicting a generic high-rise tower in its place.

Criterion and Greyhound did not return requests for comment.

But he operator has struggled to find an alternative terminal site, even as the sale of other adjacent parcels disrupted bus egress.

Anuj Gupta, chief of staff for US Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Pa.), told the Inquirer the bus company has only a few years left on its lease. In the past, city officials have considered relocating the bus depot to 30th Street Station — where other intercity bus lines pick up passengers — or to the now-defunct police administration building known as the Roundhouse, on Seventh and Race Streets.

Staff writer Joseph N. DiStefano contributed reporting.


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