“You won’t find a more diehard 76ers fan than me. But this is not about basketball,” said Shawmar Pitts, co-director and policy coordinator of Philly Thrive, a community action organization. “This is about putting profit before people.” This morning, Pitts was among a group of demonstrators from communities of color throughout Philadelphia gathered on Broad Street outside Hahnemann University Hospital protesting 76 Place: a $1.3 billion plan by 76 DevCo. and Gensler to build a new stadium slash luxury residential tower in Center City. Together, the disparate groups have formed a coalition, No Arena in Chinatown Solidarity (NACS), that started a petition against 76 Place and organizes protest demonstrations against the development.
Pitts was joined by Mel Hairston, a former resident of the UC Townhomes in West Philadelphia that were recently demolished by David Adelman, a developer associated with 76 Place. Pitts also spoke with Theresa Howell, an organizer with Renters United Philadelphia; and Reverend Hannah Capaldi, a co-pastor from First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia. Speakers called attention to how “bad actors and corrupt business practices have displaced low-income Black communities, poisoned communities of color via environmental racism, destroyed an essential community hospital, and contributed to the rising cost of housing.” Kevin Barfield, Camden community activist and former president of Camden County NAACP, also joined the protesters.
The choice to host the protest outside Hahnemann University Hospital was strategic. For decades, the Hospital served many of North Philadelphia’s poorest residents until 2018 when it was purchased by MidCap Financial and Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm co-led by Josh Harris, managing partner for the 76ers. In 2019, within a single month, Hahnemann University Hospital laid off 2,572 staffers under Harris’s leadership leaving a “gaping hole” in the city’s hospital services. Hahnemann University Hospital closed its doors in 2021, inhibiting thousands of predominantly Black and Latinx Philadelphians of medical care. At the protest, Mel Hairston noted that the Hospital will be torn down shortly for new “expensive apartments.”
The September 12 protest comes after an open letter written by human rights organization The Shift addressed to David Blitzer, Harris, and Adelman. The letter articulated concern over the impact the project may have on the Chinatown community. Shortly after, The Philadelphia Inquirer removed an article by the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jeffrey Gammage that was also critical of 76 Place. In the Inquirer, Gammage called 76 Place “‘inconsistent’ with international human rights laws” established by the United Nations. It called attention to the fact that Blitzer, a senior executive with Blackstone Group associated with 76 Place, has been accused by the U.N. for “heightening the global housing crisis.” In 2019, the United Nations claimed Blackstone Group had “forced tenants out of their homes” in cities across the globe.
“When I researched 76 Place, I found that one of the main developers is an executive at the Blackstone Group, which has been cited by the United Nations for international human rights violations, particularly causing a worldwide housing crisis,” said Debbie Wei, longtime Chinatown community member and organizer, in a press release. “I tracked down the report, and emailed the woman who wrote it, describing what’s happening in Philadelphia and in Chinatown. She was alarmed, and said she felt our human rights were being violated and that her organization would investigate. This letter is a result of that investigation. It’s alarming to me why the city continues to do business with bad actors at the expense of our communities. Chinatown is not alone in facing these human rights violations, and I hope Mark Squilla and the rest of City Council will abide by international human rights standards and stop 76 Place and this predatory model citywide.”
“This arena is a prime example of the model of predatory development and displacement for profit,” Shawmar Pitts said. “From the Black Bottom evictions to the shuttering of Hahnemann Hospital to unaffordable homes in South Philly, we know these developers aren’t just preying on one neighborhood, they’re coming for all of us. And they want us to get out of their way, which we’re not going to do. We stand united as a multiracial, multigenerational movement to say no arena, and call on our elected officials to represent the will of the people, not billionaires invested in the destruction of our city.”