Sixers open big new practice complex in Camden

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About 250 people are expected to work inside the new Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex on South Front Street. The team’s official training camp starts Monday.

The struggling 76ers claimed much-needed bragging rights Friday as they cut the ribbon on a new training facility in Camden - the largest in the NBA.

The 125,000-square-foot complex on South Front Street - soon to include the team's corporate offices - is the first to open for business among several major building projects rising as part of a multibillion-dollar effort to remake the city's waterfront.

It also represents a valiant effort to revitalize the Sixers, who won just 10 games last season.

"Magic happens in practice," Josh Harris, the principal team owner, told those gathered outside the gleaming glass facade.

The facility's $86 million cost represents a "signature investment in our team and players," said Harris, who called it "a world class complex" that will launch a "new era of 76ers basketball."

A reflection of Philadelphia's skyline shimmered in the mirrorlike facade behind the various team owners and civic leaders who stepped to the dais to voice unbridled confidence in the team's - and Camden's - future.

"Camden is rising," declared Mayor Dana Redd.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) hailed the venture as a "phenomenal community partnership" between city and team and proclaimed that the facility's opening will be remembered as "the day when Camden [began] coming back."

David Blitzer, a co-managing owner of the team, said the group had committed to building "the largest and most innovative training complex possible" to "meet and exceed the needs of the modern athlete."

Located between the Adventure Aquarium and the Susquehanna Bank Center, the new facility boasts two regulation basketball courts, a 2,800-square-foot locker room, an upscale players' restaurant, a media center, and state-of-the-art wellness and hydrotherapy rooms.

White walls dominate, with the carpets, floor tiles, stairwells dark or smokey blue, and the spare, contemporary furniture mostly black.

Lead trainer David Martin pointed out the weightlifting room, the four therapeutic pools equipped with underwater cameras, and the physical therapy and massage rooms, noting they were all on one floor for easy access by the players and staff.

Some Sixers players, including top 2016 draft pick Ben Simmons, already were shooting hoops on one of the brightly lit courts as news reporters and camera crews and other visitors toured the interior.

Official training camp starts Monday, and the Sixers' first game of the new season will be Oct. 15 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Instead of selling naming rights to a corporate sponsor, the team is promoting its own brand by calling the facility the "Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex" and proclaiming the name in giant letters outside.

The team's business offices are to open within the building early next year. About 250 people are expected to work at the facility.

Inside, Blitzer said he and his fellow owners view the new complex as a "community asset" for Camden and a "part of its revitalization." All employees are expected to do 76 hours a year of community service, he said.

Amy Hever, executive director of the Sixers' youth foundation and community relations, said the team plans to each year revitalize one community basketball court in Camden, and will this year launch a pilot behavioral health program targeted at the city's middle-schoolers.

Over the course of 20 one-hour presentations once a week, Hever said, presenters will explore such topics as the value of sleep, hydration and nutrition, reading, studying.

"We're hoping to pull kids out of poverty," she said, "and sports has a certain power to reach young people."

Until now the Sixers were the only team in the league not to own a practice facility. Since 2000 they had rented a court at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on City Avenue.

As the team rebuilds with young draft picks, it expects its shining new practice facility to be a better lure for coveted free agents than the previous venue.

The Garden State wooed the team across the river in 2014 with an offer of $82 million in tax breaks over 10 years, part of the state's Grow New Jersey assistance program to revitalize its poorer cities.

Grow New Jersey's tax incentives have also attracted other area corporate giants, including Subaru, Lockheed Martin, and Holtec International, to relocate large office or manufacturing complexes into Camden. The city will be home to Subaru's North American headquarters.

"They've all started construction," Sweeney said during a tour of the facility, but the Sixers' "are the first to open" in the city.

The defense contractor Lockheed Martin has received $107 million in tax incentives and Subaru has received $118 million to relocate from elsewhere in South Jersey. Cooper University Hospital was awarded $40 million in incentives to move about 350 office jobs from Cherry Hill and Mount Laurel.

Since 2010, state officials have approved $6.1 billion in corporate tax credits, according to New Jersey Policy Perspective, a liberal leaning think tank, nearly triple the amount it approved in the previous decade.

"These subsidies aren't just getting bigger - they're becoming even better deals for corporations, which have to do less than ever to receive massive breaks," said Jon Whiten, NJPP's vice-president.

In March, Liberty Property Trust LLC, based in Malvern, also announced the largest private sector investment in the city's history.

Designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, who designed the Comcast Center, the Liberty project calls for about 1.5 million square feet of commercial space that would include two glass-fronted office towers overlooking the Delaware River, two new streets, 200 residential units, and a 130-room hotel near Campbell's Field and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

American Water announced in June it would relocate to the Liberty site, motivated in part by tax incentives of $164 million. The move will bring 600 existing jobs to the city, according to the company, and add 100 more.

doreilly@phillynews.com

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