A lobbying firm working to promote the Philadelphia 76ers’ plan to build a new arena in Center City has admitted to filing incomplete disclosure reports regarding its efforts to influence city officials about the project last year.
As a result, the CBL Real Estate, which a spokesperson said is the lobbying arm of the team’s development company 76 Devcorp, agreed to pay $4,000 in fines with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics, the board announced Tuesday.
As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, CBL Real Estate admitted to making omissions in two city lobbying reports from 2022. The firm has since filed amended reports with a new subject matter — “Sports Arena” — that show that it lobbied members of Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and city council members about the project.
“We are pleased this matter involving an administrative error has been resolved and look forward to continuing to educate the public about the benefits of 76 Place — a privately funded project that will create thousands of jobs, vibrancy and a positive economic impact for a critically important part of our city,” 76 Devcorp spokesperson Dave Sholler said in a statement.
The ethics board fines are the latest in a string of City Hall controversies caused by the team’s ambitions to build 76 Place, a proposed arena complex and mixed-use development the team says could revitalize struggling East Market Street.
Many community leaders have opposed the project, saying it would lead to the displacement of the Chinatown neighborhood, which borders the proposed site. Team and city officials have vowed not to take action on the proposal until they get input from the community and study ts potential effects on the surrounding area.
But late last year, according to the Inquirer, the team appeared to have tried to sneak legislation through the city council that would have facilitated arena construction by striking Filbert Street between 10th and 11th Streets from the grid. The legislation failed after Chinatown advocates learned of the street-striking language.
"During that controversy, it would have been all but impossible for the public to know who was lobbying Council on behalf of the team," wrote Sean Collins Walsh of the Inquirer. "Neither the 76ers organization nor 76 Devcorp filed lobbying reports in 2022, and it is not obvious from CBL Real Estate’s lobbying registration that they have ties to the team."
The team also appears to have attempted to hide its significant financial support for Jeff Brown's unsuccessful campaign in this year’s Democratic mayoral primary race, Walsh reported. A sports team anonymously gave $250,000 to the nonprofit arm of For A Better Philadelphia, a political action committee that backed Brown. The Inquirer confirmed that Philadelphia's other major professional sports teams were not involved, and that a lawyer for the PAC is also working on the arena proposal.