Could the 76ers change Market Street in Philadelphia, giving it the attention it deserves?

If and when the 76ers and Philadelphia apartment developer David Adelman achieve their dream of building an 18,500-seat basketball stadium between 10th and 11th and Market, it will come at the expense of the Fashion District Philadelphia, the mall and entertainment complex that opened in 2019 with the aim of resurrecting Market Street.

The new stadium would prove several things: firstly, in this city, fashion will never change the game, sport is. We like to think of ourselves as stylish, but the truth is that Philadelphians are more likely to go for James Harden than high fashion. Most important, it will test whether the city can actually provide the infrastructure, investment and urban planning solutions necessary for the city center to realize its full potential.

READ MORE: Sixers want to build new $1.3 billion arena in downtown

It would also prove that it takes an influx of people from out of town for Philadelphians — especially those who live in underrepresented communities — to get the amenities we deserve in what is supposed to be our center- town.

When Philadelphia’s Fashion District replaced the beloved – albeit beleaguered – Gallery Mall in the fall of 2019, the $300 million shopping complex was meant to revive the Market Street East shopping district, considered the oldest street country’s trade.

It was supposed to do what the Gallery Mall had stopped doing decades ago.

The gallery was one of the country’s first city shopping centers when it opened in 1977 anchored by Gimbels and Strawbridge & Clothier. Gallery II opened in 1983 and with the addition of JC Penney’s and 105 new stores, making the four-story, four-block structure the largest downtown shopping complex in the nation.

Even as the mall was being built, white theft was underway. The exodus of white Philadelphians to places like New Jersey and Montgomery County resulted in the disappearance of many basic goods and services within the city limits. SEPTA ran its buses and trains regularly when people in the suburbs drove into town for work, but switched to hourly service during off-peak hours. Garbage blew down the street. What was once one of the country’s finest shopping districts was at the center of the divestment.

Preit made no effort to keep the gallery well lit and welcoming, the management of King of Prussia and Cherry Hill enhanced the shopping experience. And when Strawbridge’s closed to the Gallery in 2006, as nationwide department stores lost market share to big box stores like Target, the Gallery never had another outlet. anchoring luxury.

Yet the gallery continued because it was accessible to people who lived in Philadelphia. During the 1990s, it became a hub for black-owned bookstores, clothing boutiques, and beauty supply stores. Black kids could hang out at pizzerias and soft pretzel spots safely, and it was one of the few places with limited public transportation access.

When rumors began in 2014 that the Gallery Mall would undergo a renovation and become a shopping mall filled with outlets, black Philadelphians were skeptical that the Gallery they loved would become gentrified and unwelcoming.

Fashion purists scoffed. A mall full of discount retailers doesn’t make a fashion destination, they said.

The mall, however, held its own with city and suburban shoppers thanks to Century 21, Burlington and Ulta. Bottom line: Philadelphians love chords. When Philadelphia’s Fashion District opened in 2019, it shone on the inside. The sidewalks were freshly paved, but a collection of fraudulent checks checkouts and cheap jewelery were still tucked away in the blocks surrounding the new mall.

And even as City Winery and AMC Theater began to bustle, SEPTA service remained miserable, running many of its commuter trains once an hour during off-peak hours as if the transit riders who lived in Philadelphia enclaves like Germantown, East Oak Lane, and Wynnefield did not matter.

Any hope that the Fashion District might have been what it promised ended with COVID.

Preit, the Philadelphia-based real estate and trust company that owned and managed the property, filed for bankruptcy in 2020. Majority ownership passed to California-based Macerich. The pandemic has also forced stores, including Century 21, to close. Malls were moving in the direction of entertainment complex before the pandemic. And now that Americans are wearing yoga pants, sweats, and pajamas in our home offices (except when we’re postponing pandemic weddings), interest in designer fashion continues to decline.

Two years later, the majority of downtown workers have not returned. Market Street remains dirty and deserted. Philadelphia needs a win.

The Sixers’ gleaming $1.3 billion arena with private money, promising an influx of suburban commuters could be that win.

The stadium will likely have a bigger impact on fashion in the city than the fashion district ever could. A downtown teeming with spouses, entourages, and associates of wealthy basketball players is definitely a good sight.

Designer boutiques like Tory Burch, whom the city courted for years before losing to the King of Prussia, may finally want to open specialty stores in the city center.

The parts of the Fashion District that manage to survive — and the jury is still out on that — would certainly benefit from increased foot traffic.

And because the stadium will attract suburban visitors, the amenities and attention that this area has been missing – better lighting, cleaner sidewalks and, of course, a better SEPTA – may finally arrive.

The organizers of the 76 Place Market East Project – its name for now – called it Philadelphia’s Madison Square Garden. But it should be noted that the garden has been part of the fabric of New York since 1879, so it has grown and changed with the city, organically integrating into the existing infrastructure. When games end after 11 p.m., trains arrive regularly to take revelers home. all the borough – and northern New Jersey cities – in minutes.

The 76 Place Market East project is more akin to Barclay Center, where the Brooklyn Nets have played since 2012. While Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood has benefited from the arena’s arrival in terms of retail and police presence , Brooklyn residents say they’ve lost a piece of their city. Beloved local bars have been closed, longtime residents have been forced to relocate. And the traffic is a mess.

76 DevCorp must therefore consider who will serve the stadium. It is imperative that they work with the surrounding Asian community. And it needs to be accessible to commuters and black and brown people who live in areas outside of downtown and who have been lifelong die-hard Sixers fans.

If for some reason the stadium is not functioning, it is important that politicians and city planners invest in cleaning up Market Street East. Philadelphians deserve decent lighting, a safe environment, and trains that run more than once an hour during off-peak hours, even if the Sixers decide not to call that corner of 10th and Market Street home.

Elisha A. Tilghman