PHILADELPHIA — As Temple University kicks off its football season Friday, the school’s drive for a 35,000-seat stadium appears to be stalled.
Facing intense community opposition, skeptical legislators and a summer leadership crisis that forced Temple’s provost and president to step down, the school has no clear timeline to bring a proposal to City Hall.
The Owls have paid rent since 2003 to play 6 miles away at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles. To build its own campus facility, Temple needs legislation passed by City Council — but a spokeswoman for President Darrell Clarke, who represents the university’s North Philadelphia district, says first there must be a “rigorous and respectful community engagement process.”
“As of now, and as far as Council President Clarke is concerned, there is no stadium proposal for Council to consider,” Clarke’s spokeswoman Jane Roh said Friday.
The $126 million plan has generated controversy since February, when Temple’s board of trustees approved a feasibility study, hired architects and tore down apartments on university land near campus.
Neighbors worry that traffic and parking shortages could jam streets with drunk tailgaters. Temple wants to build across the street from an elementary school, a home for the elderly, and dozens of rowhomes.
“Why do you need a stadium in the middle of a residential area?” said resident Karen Sisco. “When school is in session and they decide to have a game on Friday night, you have the rigmarole, the students who get drunk and forget that it is a community and have bad behavior.”
But supporters say the stadium will make the campus — historically a commuter school — a tighter-knit community. The school serves more than 34,000 full-time students.
“You see every other southern school or out west — that’s everything they are, is football. That’s how you grow a university,” said Tyler Baldo, a junior advertising major from Delaware.
The university says rent at Lincoln Financial Field will triple from $1 million per year to $3 million starting 2018. So, by building its own facility — financed through donations, loans and grants — Temple won’t have to pay rent. Officials say tuition will not be affected.
“It makes financial sense,” university spokesman Ray Betzner said. “That $3 million can be used to support the educational mission of the university.”
The Owls have seen a rebirth after decades as one of the worst programs in college football. They went 9-4 in 2009, their best record since 1979. Last season, they took off under coach Matt Rhule, including beating rival Penn State for the first time in 74 years in front of nearly 70,000 fans.
“I’ve been at Temple since ’02 — I can give a really good lecture, but I’m never going to get 69,000 people to come to it,” said Scott Gratson, associate professor of communications. “How the campus grew together, came together, over that event, was absolutely spectacular.”
Later in the season, ESPN’s “College Game Day” visited ahead of Temple’s sold-out contest against Notre Dame. The team finished the season 10-4 and went to its fifth-ever bowl game. Applications shot up 15 percent last year — which some attributed to football success, though there’s little hard evidence.
But when talk of a new stadium began, pushback was immediate. The Stadium Stompers, a group of student and community activists, capped off a series of protests earlier this year by presenting Temple’s then-president, Neil Theobald, with an award for “Best Gentrifier.”
Temple occupies a large swath of impoverished North Philadelphia, and the largely black population has long been concerned about being shoved out by rising rents and an expanding university footprint.
The student population living near campus has more than doubled in the past decade, and a May report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that median home sale prices near the proposed stadium site have spiked tenfold in 13 years, from $11,250 to $140,000.
Temple has tried to soothe concerns by stressing the potential benefits of a stadium, including new jobs and retail outlets.
But residents remain unconvinced. The Stompers are planning more protests, with ideas ranging from blocking the homecoming parade to sculpting and stomping a mini-stadium.
For now, Temple is conducting a $1.25 million traffic study.
“The university and the board was effectively going through due diligence — a feasibility review of the project, and that hasn’t changed,” said Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Temple’s board of trustees. “We are still doing our due diligence.”