Kenney lambastes Eagles over Temple stadium fees

Mayor-elect Jim Kenney criticized the Eagles ownership Friday for trying to make a bigger profit on a new lease proposal for Temple University to play football games at Lincoln Financial Field.

"The Eagles are frustrating to me," Kenney said after speaking in the morning at the My Brother's Keeper Philadelphia Summit at Community College of Philadelphia. In his view, "they are not ... as community-committed as the Phillies, Flyers, and Sixers are."

Kenney said part of his frustration was that hundreds of millions of dollars in tax money helped build the Eagles a stadium and raise the value of the professional football franchise. But he said the team, owned by Jeffrey Lurie, had not responded as it should, focusing on "dollars and cents" in a way that might preclude a lease renewal with Temple.

To avoid paying higher rent to the Eagles and show off its campus, Temple announced in October that it wants to build a $100 million stadium at its North Philadelphia location.

Temple pays about $1 million in rent to the Eagles, who have told university officials they want $12 million up front and $2 million in annual rent for a new 30-year lease. Temple's current lease ends in 2017, with options to play at Lincoln Financial Field in 2018 and 2019.

"It is a private entity and part of the NFL, and there is nothing I can do to force them to do the right thing," Kenney said. "They have a very solid and stubborn attitude about the relationship between Temple and the Eagles."

An Eagles spokesman said via email early Friday afternoon that the team would respond to Kenney's "very discouraging and upsetting remarks," but did not issue a further response Friday night.

Kenney met Thursday with Temple president Neil Theobald and board of trustees chairman Patrick O'Connor to discuss his concerns about the proposed 35,000-seat stadium.

Kenney said he had spoken with Eagles president Don Smolenski, but not Lurie, about the team's relationship with Temple.

On Dec. 10, Smolenski said in a statement that "we welcome the opportunity to sit down with the mayor-elect to discuss our long-standing partnership with Temple University." He added in that statement, "We have not only completely honored our obligations with Temple, but have gone above and beyond to support Temple football at Lincoln Financial Field."

Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said Friday afternoon that he understands that the Eagles give considerable money to charities of the team's choice, but given the huge investment by taxpayers in the stadium, he would like the Eagles to help Temple and other groups in the city.

In December 2000, City Council approved a two-stadium package for the Eagles and Phillies that totaled a bit more than $1 billion. The state contributed $170 million to that. The city's share was $394 million, which it raised partly through issuing bonds and a rental car tax.

The Eagles' share of the deal amounted to $310 million of the estimated cost of the $395 million stadium. The city was to contribute an estimated $90 million toward operations and maintenance over the Eagles' 30-year lease with the city. Under that agreement, the Eagles can sublease the stadium for events such as Temple football and concerts. 

Regarding Temple's building a stadium of its own, Kenney said he "loves Temple," but said neighbors of the campus have been disrespected for a long time. Until that situation is improved, he said, he cannot support a stadium. Some of the city's efforts to help could include more overnight inspections of building projects near Temple.

"We have contractors and developers up there dropping cement on people's cars, ... putting on roofs at 2 a.m.," Kenney said. "We need to get our arms around what's going on in the neighborhood.

Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said in a statement, "Temple University shares his concerns over certain changes that have come to the neighborhoods adjacent to us. We look forward to working with the city administration and local leaders to address these concerns."

Kenney prompted Temple to suspend its stadium planning by saying last week that the Eagles should let Temple play "free" at its stadium, like an arrangement the Pittsburgh Steelers have with the University of Pittsburgh football team. A former Pitt athletic department official told The Inquirer that Pitt pays rent based on a percentage of ticket sales and a fee for stadium operations, but gets a portion of concession revenue.

Kenney said "free" was not an appropriate description of his understanding of Pitt's lease with the Steelers, but said the Steelers' willingness to let the Panthers play there for little or no profit differed from the Eagles' approach.

"They are in it with an economic formula, and I think, with our sports teams, considering the public support taxpayer-wise and spiritually - we live and die with the Eagles. ... They have a bigger responsibility," Kenney said, adding: "They don't agree with me."

Kenney made clear Friday that his concerns were not the only political views that mattered, since City Council President Darrell L. Clarke represents the Fifth District, which includes Temple's campus.

Clarke would have to approve a bill letting Temple take over part of 15th Street between Norris Street and Montgomery Avenue to build a stadium.

Clarke spokeswoman Jane Roh said Friday in a statement that Temple had been talking about an on-campus stadium for more than six years, but has not produced a comprehensive plan.

"Council President Clarke is in regular communication with university officials and community leaders, so if a formal proposal to build a stadium is offered, he will expect an open and inclusive community engagement process, in which all who stand to be affected the most are heard," Roh said. "Absent such a process, there can be no stadium."

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