Hundreds of Occupy Philadelphia supporters met well into Friday night to discuss a proposal to stay at Dilworth Plaza, with the start of a $50 million construction project looming, and expand across the street to the Thomas Paine Plaza.

The proposal, one of two put forth at the plaza during what Occupy members called a general assembly, came as city officials demanded that the encampment - consisting of scores of tents pitched around Dilworth for more than a month - move to allow the project to begin.

Construction on the Dilworth project could start this month or next.

If the first proposal failed, the group planned to vote on a second proposal: to leave Dilworth and move to Paine.

A two-thirds majority of the general assembly was needed for a proposal to pass.

In spirited call and response, members asked questions and voiced concerns, and the crowd repeated their words at top volume, mimicking a megaphone effect.

There was a declaration that if they were to stay at Dilworth, they must do so nonviolently, and a concern that occupying two sites would divide the group.

One speaker said: "We are stronger together than we are apart."

"There are hard-core occupiers that will stay regardless of what the [general assembly] decides," said Christina Finger, who favored staying at Dilworth and expanding to Thomas Paine.

In Philadelphia, the movement has been largely peaceful, a sharp contrast to Oakland, Calif., where a protester was critically injured, and Baltimore, where police have clashed with demonstrators.

Philadelphia Managing Director Richard Negrin said he was disappointed that the protesters had framed the question as an expansion and not as a move.

He said city officials would continue working with the group in hopes of avoiding confrontations.

In recent weeks, Negrin said, he has grown concerned that the group has communicated less.

"We're trying to avoid showdowns," he said. "We think there is an element of Occupy that wants a showdown, and we don't want to give that to them."

The Occupy movement, which started with protests on Wall Street, has gained supporters worldwide. In Philadelphia and other cities, protesters have decried corporate influence over politics, social inequality, the nation's bleak employment conditions, and many other issues.

Some protesters have said taxpayer dollars could be better spent to house and feed people instead of on the Dilworth project. But city officials say that the plaza has been decaying for years and that the construction project would employ hundreds of people over two years.

The project would turn the plaza's concrete surfaces into green public space and provide greater handicapped access. Plans include remaking SEPTA concourses, a cafe that would remain lighted at night, a large and concert-friendly lawn partially covered by trees, and a programmable fountain that could double as a skating rink and that pedestrians could walk across when it was not in use.

Mostly federal and state grants, restricted for capital improvements, are paying for the project.

Contact staff writer Darran Simon at 856-779-3829, dsimon@phillynews.com,
or @darransimon on Twitter.