There’s an ongoing battle in North Philly regarding Temple University’s hope to build a $130 million, 35,000-seat stadium that would be located from Broad Street to 16th Street and Berks Street to Norris Street. That battle exploded a few weeks ago on March 6 when a scheduled public meeting ended before it began due to legitimate or illegitimate disruption by some anti-stadium activists or due to legitimate or illegitimate prerequisites by Temple officials or due to both the activists and the officials.
Which side is right, the activists or the officials? My answer is the side whose position will bring economic growth, quality of life, home ownership protection, and community respect to this particular neighborhood is right.
Regardless of your answer concerning this contentious issue, you gotta admit that Temple and the vast majority of universities across the city, state, and country have a terrible reputation in connection with the Black communities in which they’re located. As Temple got bigger in terms of student enrollment, it began to acquire financial, hence political, power. And as 19th century British politician Lord Acton noted, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” For example, you do remember, don’t you, the Liacouras Center/Temple Apollo in 1997 and William Penn High School in 2014?
And you do remember, don’t you, how those and other multi-million dollar projects in the hood did little or nothing to benefit the hood but did a whole lot to benefit Temple?
Unarguably, Temple was at fault with those and other projects on three fronts. One, Temple did little good for community residents. Two, it did a bad job marketing the good (albeit only a little good) it was doing for those residents. Three, it did much more talking than listening in its dealings with the community. Even University President Richard Englert recently conceded, “... [W]e need to do a better job of listening to our neighbors....”
But Temple’s not the only party at fault here. What about the elected city, state, and federal officials who had an obligation to fight for the interests of their constituents, not for the interests of real estate developers? What about the so-called community leaders who didn’t do detailed research and didn’t demand legally enforceable contractual guarantees? It was Frederick Douglass who said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” What about many of the community residents who didn’t care enough to attend neighborhood meetings?
I interviewed several (but certainly not all) of the key players in this stadium dispute. And I will interview many more for the upcoming articles in this multi-series column. So far, the interviewees were the Rev. William B. Moore, Min. Rodney Muhammad, City Council President Darrell Clarke, Judith Robinson, and Dr. Valerie I. Harrison, Esq. Due to space limitations, much of what they told me will have to be included in future articles as well as on my 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Radio Courtroom show this Sunday on WURD96.1-FM when at least four of the aforementioned five will be my guests.
Rev. Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church near 19th and Master Streets, said, “Temple keeps encroaching its footprint upon the community while keeping its foot on the community’s neck.” And he describes this stadium plan as “further disrespect of the African-American community by Temple.” His complaints are based on destruction of homes as well as increased traffic, trash, and noise. And he bristles at the charge by pro-Temple forces that he’s not from the community and doesn’t speak for the community. He responds by proclaiming, “My church is in the community. My congregation lives in the community. And I’m a part of a broad-based coalition that includes the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, 15 pastors in the neighborhood, the National Action Network (headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton), Temple students, and Temple faculty members, among many others.”
Min. Muhammad, President of the Philadelphia NAACP chapter stated, “The only discussion we’ll have with Temple is about an alternate site” away from any densely populated majority Black residential areas. And by “we,” he means the influential No Stadium No Deal Coalition that includes, among others, POWER along with the Stadium Stompers, which, by its name, proudly makes its opposition obvious. By the way, he recently suggested Rittenhouse Square as an alternate sight.
Council President Clarke says he’s interested in what the community and his constituents want. And he added, “If the community says it's willing to have the stadium, there’ll have to be concessions made for the community by Temple.”
Ms. Robinson, a Committeeperson, homeowner, realtor, and anti-gentrification warrior from the neighborhood as well as a member of the 32nd Ward Registered Community Organization, is a student of North Philadelphia history and a documentarian. She is not saying yes to the stadium and is not saying no either. She’s saying, “I want what’s best for the people most affected.” And the only way to know what’s best is to consider all of the information, both pro and con. That’s why she’s waiting for the feasibility studies regarding traffic, parking, and trash. Although she’s leery of Temple based upon its history in dealing with the hood, she’s willing to listen and find out if the stadium could benefit the neighborhood she’s spent a lifetime fighting for.
Dr. Harrison is not just an attorney who’s the Senior Advisor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Temple; she’s also (first and foremost) a “woke” Black woman with a doctorate in African-American Studies. Even if someone disagrees with her position regarding the stadium, her pro-Black reputation proves she’s committed to the community. Check out what she said about the stadium: “For the past 17 months, Temple has held community meetings... with... long-term residents among those most affected.... The neighbors’ input has been invaluable....We’ve heard the message that this conversation should be broader and that there are many other long-term neighbors who would like to share their perspectives.... We want to continue meeting with neighbors to give those most impacted a meaningful opportunity to be heard... and to explore the possibility of memorializing their specific wishes in a community benefits agreement....”
Does that mean Temple is willing to enter into a written contract with the community to guarantee specific, substantive, and long-term economic, employment, housing, and quality-of-life benefits to the community with Temple being liable for damages if it breaches that contract? If that’s what she’s saying, then maybe we should hear more from Temple. But if Temple is gonna do us dirty like it’s done in the past, maybe we shouldn’t even listen. Find out this Sunday on my Radio Courtroom show.