PHILADELPHIA – Today, at an event in South Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney was joined by Councilman Kenyatta Johnson to announce Vare Recreation Center as the first project to receive investment from Rebuilding Community Infrastructure (Rebuild), the City’s initiative to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in parks, recreation centers, and libraries across Philadelphia. The announcement comes following a request from the Mayor to City Council to fund Rebuild through the City’s capital budget in an effort to streamline the program and get projects started.
“Recreation centers like Vare are the reason we proposed Rebuild and passed the beverage tax in the first place,” said Mayor Kenney. “We know that every day we’re not investing to improve facilities like this, we’re putting our communities at risk. With two unprecedented commitments from the building trades to build diversity in their ranks through Rebuild, it’s time start investing the money that’s been sitting unspent while parks, recreation centers, and libraries are in dire need of investment, and in cases like Vare are on the brink of closure.”
Vare serves the Grays Ferry and Point Breeze neighborhoods in South Philadelphia and is home to a variety of beloved neighborhood activities, including popular basketball and gymnastics programs. The center was forced to close in October 2017 after it was deemed unsafe by structural engineers hired by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation. On December 4, 2017, the first floor of Vare was re-opened after temporary improvements were made to secure the building. However, the second floor remains closed and Vare will likely need to be shut down again within the next year if more permanent improvements are not made.
With Wednesday’s announcement, the City confirmed that Rebuild will fund a new master plan for Vare, which is expected to launch later this year. The process will include a robust community engagement process so neighbors can help shape what the new site will look like.
“I cannot stress enough that Vare Recreation Center is an extremely important community hub in South Philadelphia, a safe haven from gun violence for our youth, and essential for the programming it provides to keep our kids engaged in positive activity. When we had to shut down Vare last fall, the community was devastated. The reality is without Rebuild, Vare Rec Center would likely close again within the year, with no answers for the neighborhood about how to pay for the center’s rehabilitation,” said Councilman Johnson. “Vare Recreation Center needs significant investment; we would not be able to fund these renovations without Rebuild money.”
In the coming weeks, Rebuild will announce more projects that will start this year using already approved funds in the FY2018 Capital Budget.
“This is a critical first step in investing in the communities and facilities across the city that are in desperate need of these improvements” said Michael DiBerardinis, Managing Director for the City. “By formally launching Rebuild, we can finally start fixing issues that have plagued neighborhoods for decades. We can also begin ensuring that diverse businesses and workers have the opportunity to work on Rebuild projects.”
Following the announcements of additional projects in the coming weeks, community engagement, design, and construction is expected to begin later this year. The majority of Rebuild’s budget will come from bond proceeds that will be repaid by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax. A larger set of projects can begin after the tax has been upheld by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.