Philadelphia will fight to keep the 76ers practice facility on its side of the Delaware River.
After reports that the team was near a deal with Camden to build a practice facility and team headquarters on the waterfront, Mayor Nutter contacted The Inquirer with an adamant message Friday afternoon: the facility belongs in Philadelphia.
"This is the best sports town in the U.S.A., the fourth-largest media market in the country, this is the Philadelphia 76ers we're talking about - Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, Allen Iverson," Nutter said. "This is a Philly team - so I think fans, frankly, would be very insulted at any idea that part of the team would be outside the City of Philadelphia."
Reached Friday, 76ers CEO Scott O'Neil referred to a comment from Wednesday in which he said the team was "looking at a number of sites for our training center, which includes several locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania."
Nutter said the city had shown the team six public-land options in the last six months, including the Navy Yard, which he said was still an option on the table.
Simultaneously, talks continue between the team and Comcast-Spectacor owners over a private deal to build adjacent to the Wells Fargo Center, where the team plays, he said. According to Comcast-Spectacor spokesman Ike Richman, "We will work hard in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia to keep the 76ers' practice facility here."
But the competition in Camden could be financially more attractive to the team.
Sources said this week a deal fueled by hefty tax incentives could be close on the Camden waterfront near the minor league baseball park, Campbell's Field, where the Riversharks play. The move would be a substantial coup for the struggling city, which has long tried to build up its waterfront.
Nutter said, "We know that New Jersey is certainly throwing, or trying to throw, a whole bunch of cash in their face," but he described Philadelphia's offer as "very competitive."
Nutter said that he spoke to O'Neil as recently as Thursday and that he and managing owner Josh Harris had said they were "looking to build a relationship with the City of Philadelphia."
Robert Corrales, spokesman for Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd, declined to comment on the potential Sixers move but said in a statement, "Camden is the perfect home for any business looking to expand or relocate." He cited the Economic Opportunity Act, which offers increased tax incentives to attract businesses.
Since 1999, the Sixers have rented practice space at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Team owners have said they need their own state-of-the-art facility to attract potential free agents. Regardless of where the practice facility lands, the team will still play games at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.
The Flyers already practice in New Jersey - in Voorhees, but Nutter said the hockey team's management had already forged a deep relationship with the city. Flyers owner Ed Snider built the Wells Fargo Center.
"The Flyers have been enormously involved in the lifeblood of the City of Philadelphia," Nutter said, citing youth hockey leagues, five city rinks, and the team's success in the playoffs over the last two decades.
"This is a new ownership group from New York coming into the Philadelphia marketplace, and it would seem to me they would want to build a reputation and a relationship with the Philadelphia fan base before taking any steps to partially move the team out of the city," he said. "They are the Philadelphia 76ers, and they belong lock, stock, and barrel in Philadelphia."
Nutter called 76ers fans patient after a season in which the team finished with the second-worst record in the league.
"Obviously, they had a challenging season, but it will not help the team's reputation and standing with Philadelphia and its fans to take part of the team somewhere else," he said. "Their marketing and branding slogan is 'Building together.' Well, I think one of the ways you show you want to build together is to build in Philadelphia."