Well, that was fast. Just two weeks after going public with his plans for a $4 billion development complex at Penn’s Landing that would include a new NBA arena and involve more than $700 million in tax kickbacks, Philadelphia 76ers owner Josh Harris got a resounding no from the agency in charge of waterfront development:
The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation announced Wednesday that it has selected another proposal from the New York-based Durst Organization, which plans a $2.2 billion investment in residential, retail and hotel developments on Market Street and a Marina Basin site. The Durst plan does not require any public subsidy.
Even without looking too hard at the Durst proposal — it would include a bunch of different characterless buildings, according to this rendering that the Philadelphia Inquirer helpfully credited to the “Durst Organizartion” — that “no public subsidy,” assuming it’s accurate, makes this a no-brainer for Philadelphia: It’s hard to imagine any project that would be so much better that it would be worth handing over an extra $700 million, the amount in future sales and payroll tax revenue that Harris’s project would have siphoned off, according to the Philly Voice.
This is almost certainly not the end of Harris’s lobbying for a new arena, though: He still wants out of the building he rents from the Flyers once his lease expires in 2031, so there will almost certainly be a Plan B and C and all the way up to Floob. (Don’t forget that the Phillies had numerous stadium plans rejected — there was one by 30th Street Station and one just north of Chinatown and I forget what else — before arriving at their current location right across the street from their old stadium site.) But don’t just take my word for it, read the statement that Harris put out after the decision:
We were proud to put forward a proposal for Penn’s Landing centered around equitable economic development and growth. Our project aimed to be part of the solution while delivering a world-class experience for our fans and the city at large. We are grateful to the DRWC for their dedication and commitment to this process, especially through an extraordinarily difficult time for the City of Philadelphia.
As we continue to pursue our future home, we remain committed to a vision that anchors a world-class venue with transformative community development, job creation and economic empowerment for low income and minority communities.
That’s a concession speech, but also one that lays the groundwork for next steps: The Sixers arena would have generated “equitable economic development” and jobs for “low income and minority communities” and don’t go away, African-American community group leaders, we still need you to support our future tax breaks!
The Penn’s Landing mini-saga is over for now, though, and 2031 is still a bit away, so expect a lull while Harris regroups and seeks his next opportunity. We can certainly hope that next time it won’t come with a $700 million public price tag, but we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.