Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Guian McKee

Hospitals (Economic Development)

As the twenty-first century began, hospitals and academic medical centers played a central role in the economies of many major U.S. cities, including Philadelphia. As centers not only of patient care but also of scientific research and, often, sources of urban redevelopment, urban medical institutions created jobs in deindustrialized cities and spurred the spatial, social, and economic transformation of neighborhoods. As such, they emerged along with universities as part of a distinct economic sector–the “eds and meds”–often seen as one of the core growth industries of the urban United States.

Few cities exemplified this “eds and meds” model better than Philadelphia. By the first part of the twenty-first century, health care, in particular, constituted a core economic sector in this former manufacturing center. Data from the 2012 U.S. Economic Census showed that hospitals had become the largest employment sector in the city. As of 2013, nine of Philadelphia’s sixteen largest private employers were hospitals (another was a health insurance company); at least six more hospitals ranked among the top fifty employers. Over the previous decade, employment in the city’s health and education sector increased by 18 percent, but declined in all other sectors except one (leisure and hospitality). Although most of Philadelphia’s hospitals were nominal nonprofits, together they generated more than $9 billion in patient revenues. Key institutions included the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Albert Einstein Medical Center, Temple University Hospital, Pennsylvania Hospital, and Hahnemann University Hospital. Many other smaller institutions contributed to the sector’s importance as well. It may thus be accurate to understand Philadelphia not only as a deindustrialized city, but also as a medicalized city. Although perhaps an extreme example of this phenomenon, Philadelphia was broadly typical of patterns found around the United States in formerly industrial cities.

In one respect, this development built on the city’s singular history as the location of the first hospital in British North America (Pennsylvania Hospital) and the first medical school (at the University of Pennsylvania). Yet in other ways, the centrality of Philadelphia’s hospital sector was the product of specific choices made in recent decades. The emergence of this urban health care sector, however, was not an unqualified benefit, in Philadelphia or elsewhere. This tension can be understood by tracing the sector’s development across three areas: land use and financing, labor, and taxation.

Land Use and Financing

Philadelphia leaders first came to view the hospital sector in economic terms during the 1970s. In 1974, the city established a municipal Hospital Authority (as authorized by Pennsylvania’s Municipal Authorities Act of 1946) with the power to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds that could be used to finance hospital expansion projects. Although the Hospital Authority issued $1.25 billion in bonds between 1974 and 1985, it also became known as a nest of political infighting and patronage. According to a 1987 study of the authority by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), the city’s hospital administrators viewed the Hospital Authority as “autocratic, unreasonable and uncooperative.” During the 1980s, Mayors William Green (b. 1938) and Wilson Goode (b. 1938) further prioritized the health care sector as a potential source of jobs and economic development. Under Green, the authority also expanded its activities to include colleges and universities, and as a result became known as the Hospitals and Higher Education Authority of Philadelphia. Shortly after taking office in 1984, Goode proposed reorienting the functions of the authority to encompass not just project financing but also coordination of the local health care sector and, specifically, the pursuit of economic development through hospital expansion. 

[caption id="attachment_29441" align="alignright" width="300"]Aerial photograph of Philadelphia General Hospital in 1966 Philadelphia General Hospital, the complex of brick buildings near the center of this 1966 aerial photograph, presented an opportunity for redevelopment but also posed challenges. The cleared area in the lower right later became a site for buildings for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Redeveloping the site of Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH), the city’s former municipal hospital in West Philadelphia, provided a test case for the city’s ability to implement this model of development. In 1975, faced with PGH’s outmoded physical plant and a pressing municipal budget crisis, Mayor Frank Rizzo (1920-91) made the controversial decision to close the hospital. Ignoring heated protests and widespread opposition, Rizzo replaced the public hospital with a system of free primary health care provided at decentralized clinics around the city, along with subsidized emergency and specialty care for city residents at private hospitals. In January 1978, the Philadelphia Daily News observed that “for all practical purposes, Philadelphia now has socialized medicine.” Although the new system initially received widespread praise, by the 1990s many of the clinics had long waiting lists, and the city increasingly strained to finance the program, particularly hospital care. 

Reusing the PGH site posed other challenges. PGH had occupied twenty-one acres adjoining the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Children’s Seashore House, and the Philadelphia Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, as well as Philadelphia’s Convention Hall and Civic Center. The University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University campuses lay just blocks away, with Center City Philadelphia only a short distance across the Schuylkill River. Highways and mass transit served the area as well. The land, as a result, had significant value. Clearance of the site took three years because of the hospital’s size and solid construction, as well as the need to relocate utilities. Contractors finally completed the job in early 1982, leaving only PGH’s distinctive exterior fence of wrought iron separated by pillars of red brick surrounding much of the site to remind visitors of the earlier structure.

Consortium Makes Progress

As demolition moved toward completion, the Rizzo administration charged the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) with overseeing the redevelopment of the PGH site. After financing for an early private development plan collapsed in the high inflation environment of the early 1980s, PIDC partnered with the PGH Development Corporation (PGHDC), a newly organized consortium formed by HUP, CHOP, and Children’s Seashore House. PIDC and PGHDC developed a plan for multi-institution reuse of the site as the Philadelphia Center for Health Care Sciences. The new consortium received more than $9 million in federal Urban Development Action grants to support new infrastructure construction on the site. This built on a long-standing pattern of federal support for hospital expansion going back to the post-World War II urban renewal and Hill-Burton Act hospital construction programs (both of which had supported earlier stages in the growth of Philadelphia hospitals such as HUP and Thomas Jefferson; the Hill-Burton program had been established by Hospital Survey and Construction Act of 1946). As a nonprofit corporation, PGHDC also secured tax-exempt financing for the project. By the 1980s, such efforts to expand Philadelphia’s large medical centers gained broad political support because they offered the prospect of creating employment at a time when Philadelphia had lost a considerable number of manufacturing jobs. 

Initial projects on the site included a HUP clinical research building and CHOP’s administrative and ambulatory care facility. A new Seashore House facility followed shortly. By the time those buildings approached completion in 1989, CHOP and Seashore House had begun planning a $75 million clinical research building and HUP had undertaken a $100 million life sciences research building, both to be built on the PGH site as part of the Center. With the additional HUP and CHOP facilities, which would be completed in 1995 and 1998, respectively, the total cost of the project reached $457 million. During the early twenty-first century, the Center expanded beyond the old boundaries of PGH, as Penn and CHOP purchased and demolished the old Philadelphia Civic Center to the south. CHOP constructed the Colket Translational Research Center on the property, while Penn built the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, a 500,000-square-foot outpatient facility. The two institutions subsequently purchased former industrial properties on the opposite (east) bank of the Schuylkill River. Both planned to build on these sites later in the decade. These purchases, with their attendant transition to the institutions’ tax exempt, nonprofit status, removed $112,307 from the city’s annual tax rolls.

By 2016 CHOP employed more than ten thousand people, HUP, nearly six thousand. HUP also formed the Penn Health System, which included such venerable institutions as Pennsylvania Hospital and Presbyterian Hospital. The wider Penn system employed thousands more and had regional alliances extending as far west as Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and east to Princeton, New Jersey. Such alliances connected the system with patients and hence revenue sources across the Philadelphia region. The system’s development was reflective of a wider pattern of mergers and consolidation in the health care industry nationally.

Other large Philadelphia hospitals and medical centers followed HUP and CHOP’s example. Temple University Hospitals and Thomas Jefferson University, both of which initially expanded their medical centers through urban renewal projects in the 1950s and 1960s, forged small regional networks and undertook new construction projects. The Temple University Health System, for example, included the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Episcopal and Jeanes Hospital, and suburban locations in Fort Washington, Elkins Park, and the Oaks Corporate Center. Its medical school established branch campuses in Pittsburgh and Bethlehem. In North Philadelphia, Temple also demolished its original medical school building as well as the Masonic Home of Philadelphia, both located at Broad and Ontario Streets adjoining its main hospital facilities. Further medical center expansions were likely to follow.

Tactics of Smaller Medical Centers

[caption id="attachment_29442" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of Cooper University Hospital Cooper University Health Care System plays a key role in economic redevelopment in Camden, New Jersey. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Smaller medical centers in the region also developed integrated health care systems. In New Jersey, the Cooper University Health Care System was based at the Camden Health Sciences Campus on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Broadway in central Camden. Formed in 1986, the system completed a $220 million expansion in 2008, and construction of a new $139 million medical school followed in 2012. Together, the growth of the Cooper campus represented a key part of Camden’s broader redevelopment effort. By 2016, the Cooper system included Cooper University Hospital, Children’s Regional Hospital, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, and a Cooper-affiliate of the Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center. It employed over 6,500 people. In addition, following a failed attempt to incorporate the Rutgers-Camden campus into Rowan University, the state formed a new joint Rowan-Rutgers Board of Governors to oversee health care partnerships between Cooper, Rowan, and Rutgers-Camden.

In the Pennsylvania suburbs, the Crozer-Keystone Health System resulted from the 1990 merger of Upland’s Crozer-Chester Medical Center with Drexel Hill’s Delaware County Memorial Hospital. The system later added Ridley Park’s Taylor Hospital, Chester’s Sacred Heart Hospital (which it renamed as Community Hospital of Chester), and Springfield Hospital. Crozer-Keystone also developed a comprehensive physician network and branched out into health related activities such as the Healthplex Sports Club in Springfield. All these components served to drive patients into the system’s hospitals. In July 2016, a Los Angeles-based for-profit hospital chain (Prospect Medical Holdings) acquired the Keystone-Crozer system.

These mergers and health system expansions reflected the competitiveness of Philadelphia’s health care environment. Featuring five academic medical centers and dozens of community hospitals, the region also had a concentrated insurance marketplace, with only two major private insurance carriers. This limited the leverage available to even the largest hospitals in negotiating insurance payments. Beginning in the 1980s, these factors led to the closure of a number of the area’s weaker hospitals, including Metropolitan Hospital (later known as both Franklin Square Hospital and Cooper Hospital-Center City), St. Joseph’s Hospital, Graduate Hospital, and the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital. Others survived bankruptcy procedures or merged into the larger health care systems. A number of these closures resulted from the area’s most disastrous experience with health care system failure. During the 1990s, the Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health and Research Foundation (AHERF) acquired eight Philadelphia hospitals and medical centers, including most prominently Hahnemann University Hospital and the Medical College of Pennsylvania. Vastly over-leveraged, with inadequate cash flow, and hit hard by changes in Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program, Allegheny collapsed into bankruptcy in 1998. Tenet Healthcare, a national for-profit chain, acquired the network’s Philadelphia hospitals. It subsequently managed Hahnemann University Hospital in conjunction with Drexel University, which used Hahnemann as the teaching hospital for its College of Medicine. Tenet also continued to control St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, the city’s eleventh-largest hospital by patient revenue.

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, expansion projects at many Philadelphia hospitals and medical centers proceeded with financing provided by the revamped Philadelphia Hospitals and Higher Education Authority, which underwrote nearly thirty expansion projects in the decade preceding 2016. The hospital city thus emerged from a combination of public and private action.


For all of the hospital sector’s importance, relying on health care as a source of economic growth came at a significant cost for the City of Philadelphia. Hospitals, as nominally nonprofit institutions, are exempt from paying property taxes to the city. Critics have argued that nonprofit status meant relatively little when the institutions involved generated billions in revenue and were deeply intertwined with government as well as with financial markets (through their bond issues) and the private health insurance industry. In a few cities, such as Boston, major hospitals have provided a “payment-in-lieu-of-taxes” (or PILOT) to reimburse the city for core municipal services.

Philadelphia’s hospitals, however, have continually used their nonprofit exemption to avoid paying taxes on the property they own. For a five-year period during the 1990s, the University of Pennsylvania and other large nonprofit institutions made a voluntary but substantial payment to the city in lieu of taxes. After a 1997 change in state law broadened the tax exemption in a way that called the PILOT program into question, Penn and other institutions ceased these payments–despite the deepening fiscal crisis of the city, especially, its school system. The institutions continued to claim that they contributed to the city through economic development, employment (and its associated taxes), and the provision of health care (including some charity care). 


[caption id="attachment_29473" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of meeting between hospital workers and Governor Tom Wolf Members of District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees and community partners meet with Governor Tom Wolf (seated, left) in April 2016 for a discussion of health-care apprenticeships. (Governor Tom Wolf on Flickr)[/caption]

Health care jobs in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries varied greatly in pay and benefits. Many jobs paid well but required relatively high levels of education. Lower-skilled service workers often found employment in the sector, but at very low wages. A study of health care employment in 2013 found that more than 25 percent of hospital workers in Philadelphia had a high school education or less (38.7 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher). The workforce was heavily female (70 percent of hospital workers). Nearly 26 percent of hospital workers in the city were African American, and 4.9 percent were Latino.

Hospital unions attempted to address the wages and working conditions in the city’s health care economy as far back as the late 1960s, but hospital unionization persisted as a contentious issue in Philadelphia. Not all of the city’s major hospitals were unionized, including most notably the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Under the leadership of Local 1199c of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers, CHOP unionized in the early 1970s as did Temple University Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and Hahnemann University Hospital. During a 1972 organizing campaign at Philadelphia Metropolitan Hospital (now defunct), a hospital guard shot and killed Local 1199c organizer Norman Rayford (1938-72). After a protest march to Metropolitan, hospital administrators agreed to bargain collectively for the first time. Norman Rayford day, celebrated on August 28 (the date of the first hospital union contracts in Philadelphia), remains a paid holiday for members of Local 1199c. The union experienced a further surge in organizing after Congress in 1974 amended the National Labor Relations Act to cover health care institutions. HUP, in contrast, did not unionize despite a number of attempts by Local 1199c. The union has been led since its 1969 founding by Henry Nicholas (b. 1936), one of the area’s most prominent labor figures.

In 1989, the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees split in a racially-charged dispute over control of union locals. Most East Coast locals joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), but Henry Nicholas successfully pushed for Local 1199c to align with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME), as did most West Coast locals. In 2016, workers at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and Delaware County Memorial Hospital (in Drexel Hill) voted to join Local 1199c; earlier in the year, nurses at the two hospitals organized under the Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals.

The centrality of hospitals and academic medical centers to Philadelphia’s twenty-first century economy simultaneously provided critical jobs and economic activity in a city reeling from the wrenching loss of a manufacturing base that had previously formed the core of the city’s economy. The new hospital city, however, brought real costs as well. These included the sector’s limited contribution to the city’s property tax-base, the low wages that it paid to many workers, and its frequent physical incursion into residential neighborhoods and commercial spaces. In all of these ways, Philadelphia, and its substantial urban health care economy, proved quite typical of the cities around the United States.

Guian McKee is Associate Professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. He is the author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia (Chicago, 2008) and is working on a new book entitled Hospital Cities, Health Care Nation: The Rise of the Medical Economy and the Transformation of Urban America (under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press). He is the editor of three volumes of the Miller Center’s series The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson (published by W.W. Norton and The University of Virginia Press).

Stadiums and Arenas

The stadiums and arenas of the Greater Philadelphia region provide a physical venue not only for athletic contests, but also for Philadelphians’ passionate connection to their sports teams. Deeply embedded in regional identity and personal memories, the history of the area’s stadiums and arenas reflects broad patterns of regional development and change.

[caption id="attachment_15503" align="alignright" width="300"]An aerial view of Shibe Park, later renamed Connie Mack Stadium, located at Twenty-FIrst and Lehigh Avenue. Shibe Park opened in 1909 at Twenty-First and Lehigh Avenue. Shibe Park was renamed Connie Mack Stadium in 1953 and remained the home of the Athletics until 1954. The Phillies continued to use Connie Mack until the 1970 construction of Veterans Stadium. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

During the 1860s and 1870s, Philadelphia’s early professional baseball teams played in a variety of small, wooden structures scattered around the edges of Center City. In 1887, Phillies owner Alfred Reach (1840-1928) built a much more substantial stadium at Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue. Eventually known as the Baker Bowl, the new stadium originally seated 12,500 people and at one time featured a sloping bicycle track around the outfield. The Baker Bowl represented a major advance in stadium design, as its construction employed brick as well as wood. After an 1894 fire, the team expanded the facility, adding outfield bleachers and, in center field, team offices and a clubhouse with a swimming pool. The rebuilt stadium also featured baseball’s first cantilevered upper deck. Like other urban stadiums of its era, the Baker Bowl adapted to the built environment of the growing city: A Reading Railroad tunnel ran under center field, creating a small hill below the outfield wall. In addition, the stadium’s dimensions reflected the oddly shaped city lot on which it was built, as the right field foul line measured a short 280 feet, far less than left field. Notable disasters plagued the stadium, including a deadly balcony collapse in 1903 that killed twelve people and injured 232. A 1927 bleacher collapse, caused by rotting timbers in the aging stadium, led to a stampede in which one person died and fifty were injured. The Baker Bowl also hosted the Negro League Hilldale Daisies and the football Eagles, who played their first three seasons at the stadium, from 1933 to 1935. The Eagles’ tenancy in an outdated baseball stadium reflected professional football’s relatively low prominence among U.S. spectator sports before World War II.

In 1901, the new American League added a Philadelphia baseball team known as the Athletics. Owned by sporting goods manufacturer Benjamin Shibe (1838-1922) and led by manager Connie Mack  (1862-1956), the team experienced almost immediate success. In 1909, the Athletics moved into a new stadium at Twenty-First Street and Lehigh Avenue.  Shibe Park was the first stadium constructed entirely of steel and concrete. It seated 40,000. Historian Bruce Kuklick notes that the park also showed  unprecedented  attention to architectural detail for a sports stadium,  with its “ornate facade in the French Renaissance style… rusticated bases, composite columns, arched windows and vaultings, and a domed tower.” Built in what were then the outskirts of North Philadelphia, the park relied on the streetcars that ran frequently along Broad Street and Lehigh Avenue to get fans to games. As neighborhoods of row houses and factories grew up around it, Shibe Park became deeply embedded in the dense urban fabric of the industrial city.

The Athletics gradually expanded Shibe Park so that by 1930 it featured upper decks along the foul lines and in left field. In 1938, the Phillies abandoned the decrepit Baker Bowl and became tenants of the Athletics at Shibe Park. They eventually purchased it from the struggling Athletics in 1954. The Negro League Philadelphia Stars also played Monday night games at Shibe Park, although their primary home was at the small ballpark at Forty-Fourth Street and Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia.

Pro Sports, Local Identity

[caption id="attachment_15505" align="alignright" width="300"]Fans at a 1967 Phillies game watch from an upper deck at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly known as Shibe Park. Fans at a 1967 Phillies game watch from an upper deck at Connie Mack Stadium, formerly known as Shibe Park. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

During the first half of the century, professional sports retained a local, even neighborhood identity. The Frankford Yellowjackets, a predecessor of the Eagles, were sponsored by the Frankford Athletic Association, a nonprofit community athletic organization that played its games at the tiny Frankford Stadium in the city’s Wissinoming section. The destruction of Frankford Stadium by arson in 1931 contributed to the team’s demise. Meanwhile, the intimate Philadelphia Arena on West Market Street hosted the city’s early hockey and basketball teams, such as the short-lived Philadelphia Quakers of the National Hockey League in 1930-31 and the Warriors of the National Basketball Association from 1946 to 1952.

The earliest hints of a shift away from such urban stadiums, however, had already appeared. After the Eagles left the Baker Bowl, they moved to Philadelphia Municipal Stadium in 1936. Built in far South Philadelphia for the 1926 sesquicentennial, Municipal Stadium was surrounded by parking lots and city dumps–a location completely unlike that of Shibe Park, and one that directly accommodated the automobile. Although the Eagles moved to Shibe Park in 1940, their brief tenancy far from the city center was a sign of things to come. Similarly, the Warriors left the Philadelphia Arena in 1952 for the larger and more modern Philadelphia Municipal, an arena located on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus in West Philadelphia.

The University of Pennsylvania itself built Franklin Field in 1895 to house its own athletic teams. Initially, the stadium consisted of a single, horseshoe-shaped deck, but in 1922 Penn added a second deck, raising the capacity to 80,000. The oldest college stadium in the United States, Franklin Field has hosted the Penn Relays track meet every April since 1895. The Eagles, after eighteen seasons at Shibe Park, moved to Franklin Field in 1958, winning their third NFL championship there in 1960. Penn’s basketball arena, the Palestra, was built in 1927–its name bestowed by a professor of Greek.  The brick Palestra is small, intimate, and loud. It has been a main venue for Philadelphia’s intense high school and college basketball rivalries, featuring not only the traditional clashes of the local “Big 5” colleges but also numerous city high school championship games. Other important college basketball venues included Temple University’s McGonigle Hall, which opened in 1969 and played host to a series of national-caliber Temple teams before being replaced by the Liacouras Center (originally known as The Apollo of Temple) in 1997.

After World War II, suburbanization created new challenges for Philadelphia’s sports teams. Shibe Park, by then known as Connie Mack Stadium, seemed increasingly problematic as a professional sports venue. As white residents left for the suburbs, the surrounding area suffered from high rates of poverty as well as racial segregation and, increasingly, crime. Fans’ increased reliance on cars rather than mass transit created massive parking problems. After the Athletics departed for Kansas City in 1954 and the Eagles moved to Franklin Field in 1958, the Phillies were left as the sole occupants of a nearly fifty-year-old stadium that lacked modern amenities and sat in a neighborhood that many fans preferred to avoid.

South Philadelphia Sports Complex

[caption id="attachment_15506" align="alignright" width="300"]Veterans Stadium under construction in 1969 with the Spectrum arena and Municipal Stadium in the background. Veterans Stadium, shown here under construction in 1969 with the Spectrum arena and Municipal Stadium in the background, opened in 1971.(PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Consensus over where a new stadium should be located or who should pay for it proved difficult to reach. Stadium construction costs had increased dramatically, and neither the Phillies nor the Eagles possessed the capital to fund a new stadium privately. City leaders, however, remained hesitant to provide public funds. Eventually, after potential sites in Camden, in Torresdale, in Montgomery County, and in West Philadelphia above the 30th Street Station railroad yards all proved politically unworkable, the city, the Phillies, and the Eagles agreed on a site just north of Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia. In 1964, Philadelphia voters narrowly approved a $25 million bond issue to fund a multisport stadium. As city and team officials debated design options, cost estimates rose again, requiring an additional $13 million bond issue in 1967. In 1971, following extensive delays and cost overruns, the Phillies and Eagles moved into Veterans Stadium, a fully enclosed, octorad-shaped structure that cost $65 million and initially seated 56,371 for baseball and 65,358 for football. As late as 2014, Philadelphia taxpayers were still paying off the bonds that had financed Veterans Stadium’s construction.

[caption id="attachment_15507" align="alignright" width="300"]An aerial view of Municipal Stadium (foreground, renamed JFK Stadium in 1964), the Spectrum arena, and Veterans Stadium. When “the Vet” opened (background) in 1971 it joined the Spectrum arena, built nearby for the new Flyers hockey team and the 76ers basketball team, and the older Municipal Stadium (foreground, renamed JFK Stadium in 1964 for President John F. Kennedy) to create a sports complex that became the focus for professional sports in the city. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

By the time “the Vet” opened, the Spectrum arena had been built across Pattison Avenue for the new Flyers hockey team and the 76ers basketball team. Along with Municipal Stadium (renamed in 1964 for President John F. Kennedy), the two new facilities created a sports complex that became the central focus for professional sports in the city. The complex’s expansive parking lots and location near interstate highways reflected the teams’ need to provide easy access for suburban fans reliant on the automobile. The location marked a stark contrast to that of earlier stadiums and arenas built in urban neighborhoods. Although neither building offered distinguished architecture, the move to South Philadelphia brought unprecedented on-field success, including championships for the Flyers in 1974 and 1975, the Phillies in 1980, and the 76ers in 1983, as well as a Super Bowl visit for the Eagles in 1981. The 700 level of the Vet became famous as the home of passionate and sometimes violent fans who gave the city its reputation as one of the most intense sports cities in the United States. The Vet and Spectrum also played host to a series of less-famous teams and events, including the Atoms, Fury, and Fever in professional soccer, the Stars of the United States Football League, the annual Army-Navy college football game (previously held at both Franklin Field and Municipal-JFK Stadium), and hundreds of concerts.

[caption id="attachment_15510" align="alignright" width="300"]Citizens Bank Park during a Phillies game. By the late 1990s, the Phillies sought a downtown stadium, pushing for sites at Broad and Spring Garden Streets and in Chinatown, but opposition from nearby residents and businesses blocked both of these plans. Eventually, the Phillies agreed to remain in South Philadelphia and built Citizens Bank Park to the east of the old Veterans Stadium. Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

As the twentieth century came to a close, both facilities had become outdated. The opening of Baltimore’s Camden Yards baseball stadium started a move towards single-sport stadiums for both baseball and football, usually featuring luxury suites that could be lucratively leased to corporate customers. City leaders around the country began to see such facilities as a tool to promote economic growth and redevelopment, even though economists strongly disputed that claim. In 1996, the 76ers and Flyers moved into the $210 million CoreStates Center (subsequently known as the First Union, the Wachovia, then the Wells Fargo Center), built on the site of Municipal/JFK Stadium. Although the city paid the costs of local infrastructure for the project, most of the financing for the CoreStates Center came from Spectacor, the parent company of the Flyers (which in turn was soon purchased by the Comcast Corporation). Such private financing, however, had increasingly become an anachronism by the 1990s.

New Stadiums, Old Location

Around the United States, professional sports teams received generous public subsidies for new facilities despite widespread shortfalls in municipal budgets for basic city services. This trend soon extended to Philadelphia. Although the city’s business and political leaders initially resisted public financing, the state of Pennsylvania in 1999 agreed to contribute $200 million towards new stadiums for the Phillies and Eagles (part of a complex arrangement that also funded new stadiums in Pittsburgh). After a lengthy local debate, the city provided $300 million in additional subsidies for the stadiums. Private funding covered the remaining costs of the $1.01 billion project.  In 2003, the Eagles moved into Lincoln Financial Field, just to the east of the Wells Fargo Center. The Phillies initially sought a downtown stadium, pushing for sites at Broad and Spring Garden Streets and in Chinatown, but opposition from nearby residents and businesses blocked both of these plans. Eventually, the Phillies agreed to remain in South Philadelphia and built Citizens Bank Park to the east of Veterans Stadium. The team played its last season at the Vet in 2003, and the thirty-three-year-old stadium was imploded the following March. The Spectrum remained in limited use until 2009, after which it too was demolished to make room for a new entertainment complex.

[caption id="attachment_15509" align="alignright" width="300"]View of Lincoln Financial Field during a game. In 2003, the Eagles moved into Lincoln Financial Field, pictured here during a game. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Meanwhile, a series of venues for other teams sprung up around the greater Philadelphia area. All of these facilities reflected the premise that sports could fuel economic development, and some have been used as tools for the attempted revival of the region’s most desperately poor communities. This trend began in 1993, with Wilmington’s construction of Daniel S. Frawley Stadium for the minor league Blue Rocks baseball team. Located along the Christina River on the former site of the Dravo Shipyard, the stadium served as an anchor for revitalization of the city’s “Riverfront District.” Built by the Delaware Stadium Corporation at a cost of $3.9 million in state and $2.2 million in city funds, it was followed by the construction nearby of a convention center and the creation of restaurants and other entertainment-oriented businesses.  Following this model, Rutgers University joined with state and regional development authorities in 2001 to build a minor league baseball park in Camden (subsequently selling naming rights to Camden’s Campbell Soup Company). Offering spectacular views of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and the Philadelphia skyline, the field became a popular destination along the revived waterfront of the otherwise still-struggling city. Finally, in Chester, the state of Pennsylvania and Delaware County provided $47 million in conjunction with private investment to build PPL Park, a soccer-only stadium for the Philadelphia Union. Like Frawley Stadium and Campbell’s Field, PPL Park formed the centerpiece of a waterfront-based revitalization effort. All of these facilities sought to appeal to fans throughout the wider region, especially in the suburbs. Whether in Wilmington, Chester, Camden, or South Philadelphia, however, stadiums did not prove to be reliable sources of broad-based economic development. Nearly all of the jobs that they created, either directly at the stadiums or in related commercial enterprises nearby, were part-time, low-wage service sector positions. Although the facilities drew people from throughout the region, they did not  immediately provide an effective anchor for additional investment in surrounding, low-income neighborhoods.

For over a century, Philadelphia-area stadiums and arenas provided a core component of the region’s sports identity while also reflecting key characteristics of urban and regional development. From the early urban stadiums accessed by streetcars to modern multifacility complexes located amid acres of parking lots, decisions about the development of stadiums and arenas reflected the region’s changing economy, built environment, and transportation infrastructure. As economic stress increased in the region’s central cities, stadiums and arenas  became part of a problematic revitalization strategy that strained public finances while providing benefits mostly for privately owned professional teams.

Guian McKee is Associate Professor of Public Policy at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. He is the author of The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia (Chicago, 2008), and he is the editor of three volumes of the Miller Center’s series The Presidential Recordings of Lyndon B. Johnson (published by W.W. Norton and The University of Virginia Press).

Share This Page: