Time is running out on Temple University’s extended lease with the Philadelphia Eagles to play at Lincoln Financial Field, and its plan for an on-campus stadium has been delayed, forcing Temple to seek another extension with the Eagles.
The university also found a group of community residents who would be interested in sitting on the board of a potential special services district, which is essential to the university’s proposed on-campus stadium project.
The Temple News spoke with Vice President for Public Affairs Bill Bergman and City Council President and 5th District Councilman Darrell Clarke, whose district encompasses Main Campus, about the status of the stadium project, Temple’s community relations and the next steps for the university and the city.
A team of people from the university will be in talks with the Eagles about a potential lease extension by the end of this year, Bergman said. This was echoed by Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor and incoming chair Mitchell Morgan, in interviews with The Temple News last week.
The university already added contract extensions so the Owls could play their home games at the Linc during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Its 15-year lease with the Eagles was set to expire in 2017.
The 35,000-seat, proposed on-campus stadium is projected to cost $130 million and take 20 months to two years to complete, university officials told The Temple News in March. The university expected to have the proposal filed with the City Planning Commission this past June so it could begin construction on the multipurpose facility, but it missed its self-imposed deadline this summer while it continued to work on winning over community residents.
With a two-year project completion timeline, no city approvals and an expiring contract with the Eagles, Temple has to find a place to play home games during the 2020 season. It’s likely the Linc will be that place, and will remain so for the next several years.
The university has cited the Eagles’ proposed rent increase at the Linc as its reason to explore the idea of an on-campus facility in 2015. Temple President Richard Englert said on several occasions that the university would save at least $2 million annually if it has an on-campus stadium.
Temple officials have maintained that an on-campus stadium would be beneficial for both the university and community since the stadium proposal was reignited in January.
A spokesperson for the Eagles declined to comment Monday on any potential contract negotiations with Temple.
The university is not considering alternative stadium locations outside of the Linc to play football at this time, Bergman said.
Recent statements from university officials show Temple is accepting it will not have a stadium in the near future, until community relations improve.
“It would be great to have an on-campus stadium,” Morgan told The Temple News last week. “But if it’s not in the cards, then we will find another place to play football, but it’s out of our control.”
“We got to go somewhere,” Bergman said.
SPECIAL SERVICES DISTRICT
Bergman and other university officials have said on several occasions that the university intends to establish a special services district in the neighborhood near Main Campus.
A special services district is an area identified by a city government that could utilize additional maintenance and other support because of its unique developments.
Temple, because of its expansive student population and history of student misconduct and trash in the neighborhood, would be a likely candidate for this type of designation.
A special services district is preferred for a project of the proposed stadium’s size because of its increased needs and impact on the area around it.
In 2002, the South Philly Review reported that a special services district promised by former Mayor John Street helped convince local civic associations to allow the construction of the Linc and Citizens Bank Park.
Bergman said the university has identified a group of community residents “that would be very interested in serving” on the special services district’s Board of Directors, which would likely consist of five community residents and four Temple officials, Bergman said.
“The neighborhood always has the ability to control the board,” he added.
Establishing this district would increase support for the area around the site of the stadium, which is bounded by Norris Street to the north, Broad to the east, Berks to the south and 16th to the west.
The area would likely receive extra trash days and increased funding, mostly from private donors, to fund trash pickup and other maintenance concerns that a stadium would exacerbate.
“Doing the special services district now, whether there’s ever a stadium or not, is where the university is headed,” Bergman said.
In West Philadelphia, the University City District is a special services district surrounding the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, established in 1997. Both schools contributed more than $500,000 last year to assist in funding the district, according to the University City District’s website.
Englert said during his remarks at a stadium town hall meeting in March that “the facility would be the linchpin for a special services district.”
Six months later during the 2018 State of the University address, Englert said Temple is “moving aggressively” to create the district.
“If there’s been substantial progress, then it’s not clear to me, and I’m not sure it’s clear to the residents,” Clarke said last week.
In his prepared remarks for the town hall, Englert said the university is committed to establishing a community benefits agreement with residents living near the proposed stadium. This is a signed agreement between the university and the community on what issues Temple will take responsibility for, whereas the special services district is a classification that allows the neighborhood to have greater access to city resources.
Bergman told The Temple News in March the benefits agreement could include elements like holding the university accountable for controlling trash and noise. Temple and the community have not formally established this agreement, nor do they have a timeline to complete it.
Clarke told The Temple News the university did not foster long-term community relations with local residents prior to ratcheting up its stadium plans.
“Temple has indicated since the stadium discussion started that they’re going to create their own special services district, and I’m saying my position has been, ‘You need to do it,’” Clarke said. “It should have been done 10 [to] 15 years ago, but it should not be tied directly to the stadium.
“Just don’t…say you want to do the right thing because you want a stadium,” he added.
In August, the university hired JDog Junk Removal & Hauling, a street sweeping company, and One Day At A Time, a North Philly-based nonprofit, to help support community maintenance during what Bergman refers to as “the move out,” or the period when students leave their off-campus apartments in July, often ditching trash and old furniture on sidewalks.
Bergman said Temple’s recent work with JDog and ODAAT is not tied to the stadium, but is a result of “what [he] saw last summer” during “the move out.”
IMPACT ON OTHER PROJECTS
The university has also faced intense scrutiny for other proposed capital projects, which some local residents have linked to the stadium.
Clarke and City Council withdrew a zoning change necessary for the Alpha Center — a proposed daycare, dental clinic and counseling center for community residents — from further consideration at an Oct. 11 meeting, following months of heated public comment sessions that often referred to the center as a “bribe” to convince community residents to accept the stadium.
“The Alpha Center is perfectly aligned with both the history of the university and the social justice mission of the college,” College of Education Dean Gregory Anderson told the Temple News in April. “Whether the stadium happens or not has nothing to do with the fact that we should be meeting this critical need.”
Bergman said much of the dissidence surrounding the Alpha Center has been stirred by the Stadium Stompers, a group of community residents, faculty and students who oppose the stadium and have fought the university at every step of the project.
“The problem is when you’re on one side pushing a relatively unpopular proposal, people can’t get beyond that,” Clarke said. “People think there’s some relationship and really there’s not.”
Clarke said the issues Temple is facing with both the stadium and the Alpha Center have to do with a project-first mentality it has developed throughout the years.
“[Temple] put together a plan and they said, ‘This is what [we’re] going to do,” Clarke said.
“We hear complaints, we move forward and we will adjust our strategies,” Bergman said in response.
Clarke said it is Temple’s responsibility, not his, to fix the tense relationship between the university and the surrounding community.
“I represent the 22nd Police District, which is always either ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in terms of homicides or shootings,” Clarke said. “I need to focus on that, and if Temple wants to help that then they can provide more educational opportunities and more job possibilities for people that find themselves in the position where they feel there’s no hope.”
The university’s talks with the Linc, attempts to find common ground on the stadium — including steps like the special services district and a community benefits agreement — and the Alpha Center, Clarke said, are outside his purview.
When he attempts to propose new legislation, it’s part of Clarke’s position to solicit support from his constituents. For Temple’s plans, the responsibility to garner support is theirs, he said.
“I don’t work for Temple, thank God, and I’m not some consultant for Temple,” Clarke said. “But Temple should have ongoing relationships with that local community that’s not directly related to any project or proposal that they have on the table.”
“That’s why they have a problem with getting the appropriate audience,” he added. “They got to figure that out.”