Sixers pressing ahead to build practice facility in Camden

Posted: June 08, 2014

The 76ers are making arrangements to build a state-of-the-art practice facility on Camden's waterfront. The franchise filed for tax credits with the State of New Jersey on Friday to build a 110,000-square-foot structure.

In addition to the practice site, the structure will house the basketball and business operations. The franchise hopes to begin construction in October and move in in 2016. The complex will be double the size of the practice facilities in the NBA, according to a league source.

In a team statement Friday afternoon, Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil would confirm only that the franchise filed paperwork for tax credits.

"We understand that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority will be voting on a possible facility on the waterfront at their upcoming meeting," he said in the statement. "We will have more to say on this matter after the EDA vote."

O'Neil didn't want to say much, because filing the tax credits is the first of two steps needed to build in Camden. The authority meeting to approve the move is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at Camden's Waterfront Technology Center. That is expected to be nothing more than a formality.

The cost of the facility is undetermined, according to the league source, who also didn't divulge the amount in tax credits the Sixers will receive. Another source believes it's a dollar-for-dollar deal - meaning that if the team spends $50 million on a facility, it would be entitled to $50 million in credits.

Camden city spokesman Robert Corrales again declined to comment on the Sixers, but said, "The city is very excited about Tuesday's agenda. We don't want to comment until the meeting."

Last week, five sources confirmed the Sixers were eyeing the waterfront, drawn by huge tax breaks available to Camden through recent legislation. The sources said the location would be next to Campbell's Field, home of the Riversharks.

At the time, Mayor Nutter was adamant that the Sixers facility belonged in Philadelphia. He told The Inquirer that the city had shown the team six public-land options in the last six months, including the Navy Yard, which Nutter said was still an option.

The Sixers were also in discussions with Comcast-Spectacor owners over a private deal to build adjacent to the Well Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, where the Sixers play home games.

"But at the end of the day, [the Sixers] kept saying if they could take all the saving they could get from tax savings and punch it into bigger and nicer facilities, the only thing they are really focusing on is player development," the league source said. "They got a 100,000-square-foot interest deal."

The Sixers have rented space to practice in the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in West Philadelphia since 1999. But they have been looking for a site to build their own facility.

"You got the State of New Jersey literally throwing money at the 76ers, and sometimes that might be a little tough to turn down," Nutter said Friday.

While he would have preferred to keep the practice site in Philadelphia, the mayor said: "Where real tax revenues are generated, where real jobs are generated, are at the Wells Fargo Center, not a practice facility."

Nutter also pointed out that the Sixers are under a long-term deal to play their basketball games at the center.

"It is where they will play their games no matter where they might possibly practice," he said.

But this move could be a win-win for both the Sixers and Camden.

Sixers coach Brett Brown said all season that a new practice facility would help attract free agents. While PCOM is accommodating, Brown said, the equipment and office spaces are outdated and lacking for the franchise's purposes. He also added that a new facility would give the team 24/7 access, which it doesn't have at PCOM. The Sixers are the only NBA team without its own practice facility.

Meanwhile, in Camden, where unemployment has risen to 19 percent and 42 percent of residents live below the poverty line, development has long been a push - particularly on the parking-lot-lined waterfront facing the Philadelphia skyline.

The facility would be a major coup for the city even if it does little to bolster its tax base. Camden receives $113 million of its $181 million budget from the state and its tax base is a mere $24 million. Fifty-two percent of its properties are tax-exempt.

Since the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act, which expands the availability of tax incentives, rumors of major developments have spread around the city.


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