Coliseum in North Philadelphia: Temple University Attempts to Elude Zoning Laws in the City of Philadelphia to Build a New Football Stadium
By: Christopher Alexander*
A Historic Predicament
In 1964, Congressman William B. Widnall (NJ-R) raised concerns about the City of Philadelphia attempting to obtain funds from the Federal Urban Renewal Administration (“FURA”) for a fourth sports stadium. At the time, one of the responsibilities of FURA was to promote and subsidize the national housing policy – “decent, safe, and sanitary housing for every American family” – not sports stadiums. Congressman Windall argued the taxpayers should not have to bear the burden of supporting profitable sports teams with taxpayer funds when there are stadiums with “adequate size and seating capacity” that are “unoccupied most of the time.”
More than fifty years later, the City of Philadelphia is in a similar predicament involving the proposal for a new football stadium at Temple University’s North Philadelphia Campus. In 2016, Temple University (“Temple” or “the University”) announced its intentions to “bring football home” from Lincoln Financial Stadium in South Philadelphia, the home field of the Eagles, to a newly proposed location on campus. If constructed, the football stadium would be adjacent to the residential neighborhood and “bound by Broad Street on the east; Norris Street on the north; 16th Street on the West; and Pearson-McGonigle Halls and the Amtrak STAR Complex on the South.”
The ambitious stadium proposal will cost more than $130 million with a seating capacity of approximately 35,000. The University argues despite the high initial investment, the University will actually save and eventually earn money long-term. As of 2017, Temple’s fifteen-year lease with the Eagles expired requiring a two-year lease to continue renting Lincoln Financial Field for college home games. Unfortunately, Temple has a tumultuous relationship with the Eagles after years of disputing high fees and low revenues associated with their lease; none of which will likely be resolved given recent reports about the cost of a new deal.
The University has two options – build the new stadium or renew a negotiated lease – both options will be uphill battles. Right now, Temple is attempting to avoid the extension of its lease with the Eagles in hopes of gaining approval for its new stadium from the City of Philadelphia.
Temple will need to work with government officials and within the zoning regulations for an ordinance via the City Planning Commission, Department of Licenses and Inspections, Zoning Board of Adjustments, and City Council. Zoning regulations “govern land use, the height and bulk of buildings, population density, parking requirements, the placement of signs, character of development on private property, and property uses.”
Under the Philadelphia Zoning Code, Title 14 guides the development, expansion and use of land or buildings in accordance with an approved master plan. The future development site for the stadium is owned by Temple University of the Commonwealth System of Higher Education with a designated zone of “Institutional (Special Purpose) District.” The Institutional District does not explicitly discuss sports stadiums, but provides guidelines relating to height. Given the restrictions, stadium designers and contractors are going above and beyond compliance with the law to minimize height, lights, and noise. For instance, the University has pledged the stadium will be “no higher than the adjacent row homes on Norris Street” even though zoning regulations technically allow the stadium to be higher.
Unlike the Institutional District, the “Sports Stadium (Special Purpose) District” located in South Philadelphia is specifically intended to accommodate sports stadiums while protecting neighboring residents. In the past, a non-binding referendum gauged feedback on sports stadiums to “determine the will of the electorate” and confined them to the existing Sports Stadium District. The Sports Stadium District provides extensive guidelines to mitigate adverse impacts of stadiums on the South Philadelphia community. For instance, “total sound level, elusive of extraneous sounds, [cannot] exceed 70 decibels measured at the property boundary of the nearest occupied residential property.”
Interestingly, Temple’s proposed football stadium would affect the nearby North Central Philadelphia Overlay buffer zone which requires developers to take into consideration the impact of large-scale projects on the surrounding residential communities. The designated buffer areas, scattered throughout the city, were created to involve all parties in the planning process while promising to “sustain and promote single-family residential uses, prevent decimating property values, and discourage nonresident parking as a main use.” In order to uphold the zoning requirements and respect the neighboring area, the University will need to address the community’s concerns about road closures, parking, traffic, tailgating, trash, and noise.
The University’s stadium proposal has received immense pushback, not only from external groups like the Stadium Stompers but also from internal groups like faculty and staff members. In order to combat negative public relations, Temple is organizing a Special Services District to advance community relations. The Special Services District will allow residents living near the stadium to have greater access to city resources, dedicated maintenance and services that benefit the local community. The University has agreed on more trash pickup, designated tailgating zones, and stricter violations for student misconduct off campus.
Temple’s Tasks Going Forward
For the time being Temple will need to renew its lease with the Eagles or look elsewhere to play next seasons home football games while awaiting approval for its new stadium. Whether the residents of North Philadelphia like it or not, Temple has certainty made up its mind to build the football stadium. Recently, City Council denied another University zoning proposal for failing to “win neighborhood support.” Thus, in order for the new stadium proposal to gain approval, it will need to ensure that it meets the concerns of lawmakers and the needs of community members. That being said, Temple will continue to cooperate, undeterred from the lengthy and political zoning process, as it is persistent the football stadium will not only benefit the school, but also the surrounding community area.
 See 110 Cong. Rec. 14669 (1964) (presenting argument that it is unjustifiable for cities to gain federal housing funds and then spend taxpayer money on new sports stadiums).
 See id. (reiterating FURA’s primary priority is providing low income housing).
 See id. (expressing major concerns about subsidizing sports stadiums).
 See Temple University, Multipurpose Facility: Why it Will Benefit Temple and Philadelphia, https://www.temple.edu/sites/www/files/uploads/MPFPublicNarrative1-18-18FINAL.pdf (last visited Dec. 13, 2018) (describing proposed on campus plan for new football stadium and addressing multiple potential community concerns including “noise, parking, and traffic”).
 See id. at 2 (demonstrating main objectives for development).
 See Kelly Brennan and Will Bleier, Temple to Return to Talks with Eagles, Temple News (Oct. 23, 2018), https://temple-news.com/temple-to-return-to-talks-with-eagles/ (discussing Temple’s need to renew lease with Eagles since stadium construction has not even started).
 See Temple University, supra note 4, at 1 (noting that stadium cost and maintenance expenses will be “supported by funds that would otherwise be paid to rent Lincoln Financial Field”).
 See id. at 2 (“[Projected costs to play at Linc during its two-year lease extension (2018-2019) will be substantially higher than during the original terms of the lease. Assuming any further extension is possible, costs would only continue to escalate.”).
 See id. (referring to University’s frustration over lack of revenue because “[as] a tenant at the Linc, Temple receives only ticket revenue and a small percentage of compensation revenue. The economic benefits of parking, naming rights and signage do not flow to the university.”); see also Larry Atkins, Temple Football’s Biggest Problem: The Rent at the Linc is Too High, Inquirer (Aug. 17, 2018), http://www2.philly.com/philly/opinion/commentary/temple-university-football-stadium-lincoln-financial-field-north-philadelphia-neighbor-opposition-20180817.html (“The Eagles plan to raise the annual fee for Temple to play at [Linc] from $1 million to $2 million a year, plus $12 million up front, for a new 30-year lease…In addition, Temple must pay stadium operations fees, and hand over parking and concessions revenue to the Eagles”).
 See generally Temple University, supra note 4 (demonstrating Temple University’s need and plans for the proposed stadium). But see Brennan and Bleier, supra note 7 (demonstrating North Philadelphia residents’ opposition and alternative options for proposed stadium).
 See Brennan and Bleier, supra note 7 (describing lengths Temple University is attempting to take in order to get its proposal submitted and approved in as little time as possible without reflecting on potential adverse effects or impact on surrounding community area).
 See Steve Bohnel. Reviewing the University’s Zoning Code, Temple News (Feb. 23, 2016), https://temple-news.com/reviewing-the-universitys-zoning-code/ (expanding on complicated and political zoning process in City of Philadelphia and quoting resident feedback).
 See generally Department of Licenses and Inspection, Zoning, https://www.phila.gov/li/Pages/Zoning.aspx (last visited Dec. 13, 2018) (providing summary of relevant zoning regulations found in Philadelphia Code).
 See Phila., Pa., Code, ch. 4-100, Zoning and Planning (effective Aug. 22, 2012) (amended by City Council via Bill No. 110845 “providing for revised sign controls and making technical changes, all under certain terms and conditions”).
 See id. at §14-406 (explaining the Institutional (SP) District regulations applicable to development at Temple); see specifically City of Philadelphia, Department of Records Atlas Map, https://atlas.phila.gov/ (last visited Dec. 14, 2018) (identifying specific zoning areas with current archives map).
 See Phila. Stadium Site Referendum, 1999 Bill Text PA H.B. 1766 (allowing Philadelphia residents to vote on potential stadium locations where, ultimately, majority of voters decided new stadium should be built at Stadium Complex in South Philadelphia).
 See Phila., Pa., Code §14-406 (elaborating on specific Sports Stadium (SP) District limits associated with “large scale specialized sporting facilities, associated large capacity automobile parking areas, and related use and facilities….and mitigating any related adverse impacts”).
 See Phila., Pa., Code §14-405 (explaining North Philadelphia Overlay benefits); see also Bohnel, supra note 13 (discussing how overlay district area helps manage construction with community members’ interests by “making you… take their living spaces into account”).
 See Claire Sasko, Despite Opposition, Temple to Move Ahead with Football Stadium Plans, Phila. Magazine (Jan. 1, 2018), https://www.phillymag.com/news/2018/01/18/temple-football-stadium-plans/ (reporting on Temple University’s desire to move forward with building).
 See Jake Blumgart, Temple Stadium Moves Forward, Despite Neighborhood Opposition, WHYY (Jan. 18, 2018), https://whyy.org/articles/temple-stadium-moves-forward-despite-neighborhood-opposition/ (describing activist groups like Stadium Stompers and NAACP, specifically Stadium Stompers as group of Temple University community members and North Philadelphia residents working together to stop proposed football stadium with protests, politicians, and legal action); see also Michael Tanebaum, Most Temple Students Oppose a New North Philly Football Stadium, Survey Says, Philly Voice (May 9, 2018), https://www.phillyvoice.com/temple-university-student-survey-north-philadelphia-football-stadium/ (describing results of survey of Temple University stakeholders including faculty).
 See Marc Narducci, Temple Takes Next Step to an On-Campus Football Stadium, Phila. Inquirer (Jan. 18, 2018), http://www2.philly.com/philly/sports/colleges/temple/temple-university-on-campus-football-stadium-richard-englert-20180118.html (comparing need for special services district to represent community similar to that of West Philadelphia near University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University as well as South Philadelphia near Linc).
 See Anna Merrlman. After Backlash, Temple Releases More Details on Stadium, Curbed Phila. (Mar. 29, 2018), https://philly.curbed.com/2018/3/29/17176386/backlash-temple-details-stadium-football-north-philly (addressing few of major community concerns).
 See Brennan and Bleier, supra note 7 (depicting Temple University’s sense of urgency or lack thereof “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”).
 See Michael D’Onofrio, Temple Officials Redouble Approval Efforts Despite Alpha Center Setback, Phila. Tribune (Oct. 29, 2018), http://www.phillytrib.com/metros/temple-officials-redouble-approval-efforts-despite-alpha-center-setback/article_96a083aa-124f-503c-b6c9-9e4bd91403f0.html (suggesting rejected Alpha Center proposal was supposed to provide “a slew of resources for the residents and the university alike, including learning and mental health services, day care, training resources, and research opportunities”).