State Sen. Sharif Street says Temple University’s controversial proposal to build a football stadium on its North Philadelphia campus has split the surrounding community into three uneven camps.
Street, who lives close to the proposed location at Broad and Norris Streets, said a “small, very vocal” group opposes the project in any form. An “even smaller group” supports Temple’s plans for a 35,000-seat stadium that would cover two city blocks, he said.
But most of the neighbors just want answers.
“The vast majority of people are skeptical but want to hear more, want to see what kind of benefits are in it for the community,” Street said.
Here, Temple has fumbled the ball.
Temple’s administration started floating the idea for a stadium in mid-2015 — the university’s football team plays home games at Lincoln Financial Field — and took the first official steps of the project in February 2016, despite concerns expressed by Mayor Kenney and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke. The stadium is expected to cost $130 million; Temple insists it will rely on private money to build it and will pay for bonds with money previously used to rent Lincoln Financial Field.
Last week, Temple president Richard M. Englert declared that the university was “taking the next step” toward a stadium by filing plans with the city Planning Commission after “extensive conversations with neighbors” in the last two years.
But ask Temple to detail those conversations and the university turns mysterious about its playbook.
Temple’s own description of the project lists just one meeting last summer with the “Stadium Stompers,” a group opposed to the project. The university also says it has been “talking with residents and local leaders,” hearing concerns about noise, parking, and trash.
How many meetings has Temple held? How were the university’s neighbors alerted to these gatherings? And were they open to the public or by invitation only?
Temple has no answers to these questions.
Instead, a Temple spokesman says the university “will participate in all public meetings and hearings” as set by the Planning Commission.
Not answering our questions about unanswered questions from Temple’s neighbors is disconcerting. And punting to the Planning Commission for public meetings falls far short of the transparency Temple has been claiming.
Clarke, who represents the area, told the student-run Temple News that his constituents expect “inclusive and honest community engagement.”
Temple, which now educates more than 38,000 undergraduates, has shed its former skin as a commuter school. Stadiums give a campus that big-college feel, even smack in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood.
Here we confront the central conundrum of Temple, a disruptive force for more than a century, for good and for bad, in the historically poor neighborhood that surrounds it. Blocks and blocks of new housing for (sometimes rowdy and loutish) students expand and encroach upon the neighborhood; on the flip side, nearby development brings shopping and entertainment amenities that have long been missing. Striking the balance between its ambitions and its responsibility to its neighbors will always be hard, but shutting down communication makes it even harder.
We’re in overtime for Temple to open up its lecture halls to the neighbors, to hear their concerns, to answer their questions.