PHILADELPHIA (June 15, 2022) – Today, Mayor Jim Kenney joined Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), community members, and City officials to celebrate the groundbreaking of the $20 million Rebuild project at Vare Recreation Center in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia.

For over 100 years, Vare Recreation Center has been a beloved community landmark in South Philadelphia, hosting events and activities ranging from gymnastics to baby showers and football competitions with teams like the South Philly Sharks.  A staple in the community, Vare Rec stretches an entire city block and boasts spaces for all ages to visit to play, learn, and have fun together.

“Sites like Vare Recreation Center are the reason my administration fought so hard to create new revenue with the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, enabling us to make a transformative, long-lasting investment in revitalizing critical neighborhood assets,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Decades of disinvestment in our public spaces require a bold vision for rebuilding them. I’m proud of the work Rebuild is doing with partners and community members to update and uplift public spaces that residents will enjoy for decades to come.”

“Vare Recreation Center has been in operation for over 100 years in South Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (Second District). “As one of the first sites selected for Rebuild, $20 Million will be spent to modernize and transform this beloved community space.  The programs and resources at Vare Recreation Center have been lifelines for many of the kids in this neighborhood for decades,” Johnson continued. “Investments in recreation centers like Vare are long-term violence prevention in our city. The Grays Ferry and Point Breeze communities have invested so much care, dedication, and hard work into Vare over the years, and deserve a safe, modern facility for our kids. Thanks to Rebuild, our community is finally going to receive the major investment we need to give young people in this neighborhood the absolute best of what Philadelphia has to offer.”

A part of the City of Philadelphia’s Rebuild initiative, a historic investment in public spaces, this project will revitalize an important public space at the corner of 26th and Morris Streets serving neighbors and residents throughout this area of Philadelphia. Rebuild is funded by the Philadelphia Beverage Tax and the William Penn Foundation’s transformational investment of $100 million towards the program.

“Every neighborhood in Philadelphia should have access to high-quality public spaces, and thanks to Rebuild, we are seeing this happen with 70+ projects across the city, including Vare Rec Center,” explained Kathy ChristianoWilliam Penn Foundation board chair. “The William Penn Foundation’s $100 million investment in Rebuild – the largest grant in the Foundation’s history – is more than an investment in infrastructure, it is an investment in the health and wellbeing of the residents of the city.”

The project is being delivered by Rebuild’s Project User model and is led by non-profit partner Make the World Better, founded by Connor Barwin, former Philadelphia Eagle.

Vare Recreation Center is the largest Rebuild project to enter into construction to date.

Totaling over $20 million in investment, the Vare Recreation Center revitalization will tout:

  • A brand new, 18,700 square feet recreation center complete with:

              –  A 7,000-square feet indoor basketball gymnasium with spectator bleachers
              –  A 4,900 square feet gymnastics gym with all new athletic equipment
              –  A 900-square feet multipurpose room that can be converted into two classrooms
              –  Multipurpose space for community programming

  • Two new outdoor basketball courts
  • A 1,500 square feet outdoor classroom
  • Brand new synthetic turf field funded in part by the NFL Grassroots program through LISC and the Philadelphia Eagles
  • New spray ground
  • New 6,000 square feet playground dedicated to 2-5- and 5–12-year-olds
  • New exterior lighting
  • New trees and landscaping
  • New Percent for Art Public Art installation
  • Relocated Indego Bike share station

“The future of Vare Recreation Center is the future all of our public spaces deserve, functional spaces, state-of-the-art facilities, and places to play, learn and grow that mirror the diverse and rich history of our City,” said Kira Strong, Rebuild Executive Director.  “A project like this is once in a lifetime for a community and I’m thankful to the neighbors who have and will steward this for years to come.”

“MTWB has partnered with local communities for the last 8 years to re-imagine and rebuild their parks & public spaces. The communities have made MTWB what it is today,” said Connor Barwin, co-founder of Make The World Better Foundation. “Now, we have an opportunity to do this at Vare Recreation Center. We’re excited, prepared, and honored to work with the community, the mayor, Rebuild, and all to re-imagine and rebuild the new Vare.”

“The Philadelphia Eagles organization takes great pride in providing young people across the Greater Philadelphia Area the resources and inspiration necessary to chase their dreams,” said Julie Hirshey, Philadelphia Eagles Vice President of Community Relations. “It is an honor to partner with the NFL Foundation and LISC to help fund the installation of a new artificial turf field at Vare Recreation Center and we look forward to seeing it put to good use by the community. We are proud of the impact Connor Barwin and Make The World Better continue to have on our city’s youth and thrilled to partner with them on this project. Together, we share a commitment to providing a safe space for our kids to play and increasing their opportunities to safely engage in sports.”

Construction for the project is underway and is expected to complete by the end of 2023.

“Vare was one the City’s most active recreation centers and a treasured space in South Philadelphia for more than 100 years,” said Parks & Rec Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell. “Safe, high-quality recreational spaces are vital lifelines for youth and families. The investment Rebuild is making in this field will be a game-changer for this community, who will soon have access to one of the best public recreation centers in Philadelphia.”

Rebuild is a historic investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in neighborhood parks, recreation centers, and libraries across Philadelphia. Proposed in Mayor Jim Kenney’s first budget as a part of his vision for a more equitable Philadelphia, Rebuild’s promise to acknowledge history, engage the community and invest intentionally seeks to uplift pivotal community spaces, empower neighborhoods, and promote economic opportunity through diversity and inclusion. Visit us at, and follow @Rebuild.PHL on Instagram or Rebuild Philadelphia on Facebook.
Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR) advances the prosperity of the city and the progress of its people through stewardship of nearly 10,200 acres of public land and waterways, and the management of 500 recreation buildings, 166 miles of trail, and 250 playgrounds. PPR offers safe, enjoyable recreation, environmental and cultural programs, and events throughout Philadelphia’s parks and recreation system. PPR promotes the well-being and growth of the city’s residents by connecting them to the natural world, to each other and to fun, physical and social opportunities. In 2017, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell, set about implementing the park system’s first strategic plan: Our Path to 2020 and Beyond. As a result, PPR is undertaking a period of historic change, setting the department on a course to become a modern, equitable and exceptional parks and recreation system. Visit us at, and follow @philaparkandrec on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.