February 25, Training with POWER – Save Chinatown Coalition

February 25, Training with POWER – Save Chinatown Coalition


A group of Old First POWER leaders has agreed to call meetings with both State Senator Nikil Saval and State Representative Mary Isaccson. They represent districts that include both where the Old First Church is located as well as Chinatown and the property proposed for the new 76ers arena. We have been asked by the Save Chinatown Coalition and POWER to undertake these meetings because we had the largest turnout of any congregation for the Dec. 17 meeting with Councilman Squilla. 

We will prepare for those meetings at a special training with Lilah Saber Orozco, POWER’s Lead Organizer in Philly on Sunday, February 25 immediately after worship. All are welcome, particularly those who came out on Dec. 17 and those who met after worship last Sunday. 

We wish to understand where Isaacson and Saval  stand on the prospect of state funding towards the construction of the 76ers arena on Market Street between 10th and 11th Streets. Ultimately, we want to build a relationship with both legislators in order to ask them to come out publicly against state funding for the project. 

The developers, 76DevCorp, have been trumpeting the project as not needing public funding; they have said it would be fully privately funded. But these sorts of projects are never completed without public money. 

At the center city POWER congregation’s Dec. 17 meeting with Councilman Squilla, he was asked if, prior to introducing legislation, he would agree to getting the developers to sign a legally-binding agreement that they would not seek ANY public funding. Without reservation, he answered, “Yes.” 

Later he walked that commitment back, incredulously asking, “How could I make such a commitment; I have no control over state or federal funding?” 

It’s the second time on the proposed arena that the Councilman has made a very public commitment that he later reneged on. Early on he told a large community meeting in Chinatown that he would not introduce legislation unless the community supported it. Long after leaders in Chinatown gathered evidence that as much as 90% of their community is against the new arena, Councilman Squilla explained that he never meant “the Chinatown community alone.”  He claimed he had been misunderstood: he was talking about broad public support from across the city. 

In a follow up meeting with Center City clergy after December 17, discussing the stakeholders he has been in conversation with, Councilman Squilla could not name one stakeholder who was in favor of the arena. Instead his totemic reference has now become the Rivers Casino: he suggests ‘no one was in favor of it before it was built; now everyone loves it.’ Is the casino some Philly success story: who knows how the community feels about it? And is Councilman Squilla saying he supports the 76DevCorp proposal even if there is no public support? 

Public money should go to development that benefits the city. A “nearby” example of a positive use of public funding is Old First House, which will provide the city with 34 homes for people who have been chronically homeless. Public funds should not be subsidizing private development – not when we need money desperately for things like public education and affordable housing.  Why give our city away to the developers? 

Join us on Feb. 25 as we learn more about how justice voices of faith can have more say and more power in what happens in this city and this state, making our city and state places that work for all our neighbors, even the most vulnerable…