In a world full of talk, some people are finally taking action, and that’s how dreams become reality.
The City of Wilmington recently announced that it will have a sports arena worthy of major events that is also suited for minor events. Its main sponsor is the Philadelphia 76ers, which will move its minor-league team from the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark to the new facility in what used to proudly call itself The Chemical Capital of the World. But this place will have much more than 87s basketball, and this is the kind of win-win situation that is the basis of private-public partnerships.
The location, of course, is key. Almost all of the development along the Christina River has been on the west side, which was once a grim example of urban blight and is now a shining model of how rehabilitation can work. And that, too, started with an athletics facility – what is now called Frawley Stadium.
The new arena – to be called 76ers Fieldhouse — will also be home to a minor-league team and its players are a lot closer to the big leagues than any Blue Rocks player, but the Delaware 87s will never be the popular hit that the Blue Rocks have been over the years, especially when they first arrived on the scene in 1993. So, it won’t draw fans to the area like the Blue Rocks have done for the last quarter-century.
On the plus side, Frawley Stadium is used by some high schools and other amateur organizations on occasion, but it’s almost exclusively for the Rocks. On the other hand, the new sports complex – which will have multiple basketball courts and soccer fields that can be refigured for other sports, as well as first-class training facilities – will get most of its use from organizations other than the 87s. That means it could have a bigger impact than Frawley Stadium even if it attracts fewer fans to what is supposed to be the main attraction, professional basketball.
The real dream is that the new arena will draw other businesses and residents to the same location, as Frawley Stadium did when it first opened. That was the real start of the Riverfront Renaissance and now city and state officials, as well as local citizens, hope that 76ers Arena will do the same thing for the forgotten and neglected side of the Christina.
Once again, it’s the location. Finally, the other side of the tracks – or, in this case, the other side of the river – is getting the attention it deserves and needs. South Market Street should be a developer’s dream, with it’s easy access to the city and points south and, of course, it’s river front. Now it’s gotten the boost it’s needed.
It’s nice that the Sixers have brought into this project in such a big way and the attendance at 87s games will get a modest spike because of the new digs and the location in the city. The exciting part will be establishing the 76ers Fieldhouse as a go-to destination for kids and adult amateur sports. And while most multi-sport complexes like this one are located in the country or suburbs, this one will be well suited to serve inner-city kids, who need them the most.
It’s not a magic solution for anything, and it could be many years before real results are felt, especially by the people who live and work in the area. But it is the all-important first step, and this isn’t about immediate financial gain as much as it’s about the future it promises.