Hearing of Kenney's concerns, Temple pauses stadium plans

OWLSFB09P
Temple mobilized police to keep anti-stadium protesters away from a trustees’ meeting.

Temple University postponed plans Tuesday to study building a $100 million football stadium on its North Philadelphia campus, following opposition from Mayor-elect Jim Kenney.

Patrick O'Connor, chairman of Temple's board of trustees, said university officials would meet with Kenney and his team within the next week to talk about the university's interest in placing a 35,000-seat stadium at the northwest corner of campus.

O'Connor's announcement came at a meeting of the trustees. Outside, about 50 students, faculty, and community members protested against spending money on a stadium rather than on students and teaching.

The surprising turn followed a Philadelphia Business Journal article published Tuesday afternoon that noted Kenney's opposition. Temple's board of trustees had been scheduled to discuss going ahead with a feasibility study and preliminary designs for the stadium.

Temple president Neil D. Theobald said that someone pulled up the article on a cellphone, which led university officials to put the brakes on their plans.

"If the mayor[-elect] has questions, and it wasn't clear from the article exactly what issues he has, in our planning process we want to make sure we hear from him, meet with him, talk to him, before we do anything," Theobald said after the meeting.

Kenney was unavailable for comment, but spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said he first announced his concerns with the plan at a town-hall meeting at Strawberry Mansion High School on Friday night.

She said Kenney wants to learn more about how the university would lessen the effects on the neighborhood of large game-day crowds. He also wants to explore having the Owls continue to play at Lincoln Financial Field, Hitt said.

He understands, she said, that Theobald and O'Connor are concerned about the Eagles raising Temple's price for using the stadium. But "he wants to explore that as an alternative to building a stadium," she said.

"This isn't about Temple-bashing," she said, noting that Kenney's daughter is scheduled to transfer to Temple next month. "It's just a matter of making sure this expansion makes sense."

Former Gov. Ed Rendell stated his support for the stadium on Twitter.

"It should be done," he said, touting benefits to the university and the community.

O'Connor said the university would have to decide within the next month or so whether to proceed. The university's current lease expires on the stadium in 2017, and the university has agreed to two one-year extensions beyond that.

"I'd prefer it on campus," O'Connor said of the stadium. "I think it's a win-win for the community and the university, but we certainly don't want to do it without consensus."

He said the plan includes shops and medical services for the community. The feasibility study would explore addressing parking, trash, and noise - the major neighborhood concerns, Temple spokesman Ray Betzner said.

It's unclear where communication broke down between Kenney and the university that calls itself Philadelphia's public university.

"I talked to him two to three times to explain to him what we were planning to do," Theobald said, most recently on Halloween when Temple played Notre Dame. "I don't know if he has new information, if he has other ideas. I don't know the basis of the comment."

The meeting was held with an unusually large university police presence. Temple police barred the entrances to Sullivan Hall, allowing only a few of the protesters into the meeting. The group's chants could be heard from inside.

Among the protesters was a group also calling for a higher minimum wage - $15 an hour - for workers.

"Up with the wages, down with the stadium," they chanted.

"They ignore us over and over again, and then all of a sudden, they have $100 million to build a stadium in North Philadelphia," said Zoe Buckwalter, 21, a senior from Lancaster. "We're not going to give up until we get a response from them and they start to function more democratically."

Loretta Murphy, who has lived in the 1600 block of North Bouvier Street for 35 years, said a stadium does not belong in a residential area.

"For a lot of us, this is home," she said. "This is not about real estate to us. This is where we live."

ssnyder@phillynews.com215-854-4693@ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq