After Kenney Opposition, Temple Board Defers Stadium Action
Several dozen protesters jammed the walkway in front of Sullivan Hall Tuesday afternoon, decrying a plan to discuss a potential on-campus football stadium at Temple. A half-dozen police officers protected the entrance to the ornate building where the university’s Board of Trustees was meeting. Inside the Feinstone Lounge, protesters could be heard shouting from outside throughout the meeting.
For today, it was all just theater. No decisions were made. Patrick O’Connor, the president of the Board of Trustees, announced a planned action on the Temple football stadium — an expected approval — would be deferred until a later date. This came not long after Mayor-elect Jim Kenney announced he believed the Temple football team should remain at Lincoln Financial Field.
O’Connor said Temple would meet soon with the incoming mayor. “We’ve had extensive discussions as to the necessity of this stadium for our Division I program as well as the other uses,” he said. “We are going to engage all aspects of this community, including a meeting with the mayor-elect, to ensure that what we do for our students and our programs will be good for Temple and good for the great city of Philadelphia.”
An on-campus football stadium would be a block or two behind the Liacouras Center, most likely.
Kenney announced his opposition in an email to the Philadelphia Business Journal, which the paper published this afternoon. It detailed his views on the stadium: “If the Eagles were living up to their commitment to Philadelphia and our public university, just as the Steelers live up to their commitment to Pittsburgh by renting their stadium for free to Pitt’s football team, there wouldn’t be a need for a stadium at Temple University,” he wrote. “There’d also be a winning team down at Lincoln Financial Field for a refreshing change.” (Take that, Eagles!)
The outside protest was organized by 15 Now, the same group that stormed a Board of Trustees meeting in October. 15 Now Philadelphia has organized about a protest a month this year in favor of a $15 minimum wage in the city. Protests have frequently been directed at Temple; the city is not allowed by state law to raise its minimum wage.
Unlike last time, the protesters did not interrupt the meeting. Only a handful were let in. “From the start, they said five people were going to be allowed in because there was a capacity issue,” said protest organizer Zoe Buckwalter, a Temple senior from Lancaster. “Which was not true, because once we were in, there was plenty of room.”
Buckwalter and four residents from the community adjacent to Temple’s campus were let in about halfway through the meeting. They did not attempt to interrupt the Board of Trustees meeting, but the five held a “mic check” protest afterward.
Several residents who live across the street from the proposed stadium site told Philadelphia magazine they’re against the stadium in October. North Philly residents packed a meeting earlier this month, with many protesting the construction of a stadium. “They talk that trash, yet we don’t get hired,” Ruth Birchell said at the meeting. “Trickle-down economics doesn’t happen in North Philadelphia.”
In April 2014, Temple President Neil Theobald said the Eagles want to double the rent Temple pays to use Lincoln Financial Field, and have the school chip in $12 million for renovations.
An on-campus football stadium has been a dream of Temple administrators for a long time. In October of 2014, Philadelphia magazine’s Sandy Hingston wrote about Theobald’s interest in an on-campus stadium. “Theobald says… sports are the “front porch” of a university,” Hingston wrote. “[T]hey build the brand and attract new students and alumni dollars the way nothing else can.”
It remained mostly talk until this football season, when Temple beat Penn State en route to a 7-0 start, hosted the College GameDay pregame show on Independence Mall before a huge game against Notre Dame, won the American Athletic Conference East division and qualified for the Boca Raton Bowl. Coach Matt Rhule yesterday inked a six-year extension.
O’Connor told the Inquirer in October the University had received “some seven-figure commitments” for building the $100 million stadium. He said the stadium would not just be for football: “We want it for community events such as high school sporting events, along with concerts and academic purposes.”
Earlier this month, Theobald wrote an op-ed in support of the stadium. “A new, on-campus football stadium is a logical next step not only for football, but—in my view—for one of the nation’s leading urban research universities located in one the nation’s great cities,” Theobald wrote. “Bringing football home would create a completely new experience for our alumni, students, faculty, staff and fans.”
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, who helped spur $85 million in state funds each for Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bark Park and $34.5 in state funds for Talen Energy Stadium (formerly PPL Park) in Chester, is a supporter of the on-campus stadium. He predicted fans would “buy souvenirs in North Philadelphia” if a stadium were built. John Street told this magazine he’s on board. ESPN’s Rece Davis supports it.
Theobald clearly wanted to set the stage for a stadium rollout, even if one wasn’t advanced today. He opened the Board of Trustees’ public session with a laundry list of good deeds Temple University Hospital has done for Philadelphia, including $63 million in free care for North Philly residents, plus $93 million for under-compensated care.
“I just want to talk about the incredible commitment this university has to North Philadelphia,” Theobald said at the trustees meeting. “There are a lot of things people don’t know that Temple does for Philadelphia.” Theobald says Temple Hospital provides many of the services of a public hospital; Philadelphia is the largest city in the country without such a facility.
Tamron Hall, the NBC Today show anchor who replaced Bill Cosby on the Board of Trustees, made her first appearance at a meeting. She got a little branding in her intro: “Most importantly, Tamron is Temple Made.”
There was a brief discussion of football at the meeting. Temple student government president Ryan Rinaldi got a round of applause after mentioning that Tyler Matakevich won the Bronco Nagurski Award as the nation’s top defensive player. He also got one when he mentioned the Temple football team’s high graduation rate.
“Sports bars around the region that were once controlled by Penn State alums have become equally cherry and white,” Rinaldi said. He called this semester the best in Temple history. Protesters, obviously, disagree.