The executive director of Rebuild, Philadelphia’s multimillion-dollar initiative funded by its tax on soda and other sweetened beverages, resigned Friday, according to city officials.
Nicole Westerman, hired by Mayor Jim Kenney in 2016 to lead the Rebuild program to improve parks, recreation centers, and libraries, left on her own accord, said Maita Soukup, a spokesperson for Rebuild. “However, the Managing Director’s Office agrees that the time is right for a change in leadership to advance Rebuild’s progress in the years ahead,” Soukup said in a statement.
Kira Strong, Rebuild’s deputy director for design and construction, will serve as interim executive director, said Brian Abernathy, managing director.
The change comes as Kenney is expected to win a second term on Tuesday. Kenney has touted Rebuild — along with pre-K and community schools, the other initiatives funded by the city’s beverage tax — as one of the signature achievements of his first term. Work is underway at 56 parks, recreation centers, and libraries, and more than $124 million in funding for those projects has been spent or committed.
Rebuild also aims to diversify the building trades, with the goal of offering a portion of construction contracts to firms owned by women and minorities. Kenney and City Council have clashed over Rebuild’s diversity promises.
Originally billed as a $500 million project, the total money involved was scaled back after the beverage tax raised less revenue than initially expected. The city issued the first $86.5 million bond for the Rebuild program last year. Additional funding is expected from two more bonds, as well as the city’s capital budget and outside grants.
“I’m grateful for Nicole’s hard work and all that she has done for Rebuild and our city,” Kenney said in a statement. “This ambitious initiative is extremely important to me, and she is responsible for where it stands today. We thank her for her service and wish her the best in her next endeavors.”
Westerman could not be reached for comment Monday. As executive director of Rebuild, Westerman earned an annual salary of $147,290, according to city payroll data.
Abernathy said Westerman’s experience helped successfully launch Rebuild. Strong has also worked with Rebuild for the last three years and previously was executive director of People’s Emergency Center Community Development Corporation in West Philadelphia.
“I’m confident that Rebuild will continue to succeed under Kira’s leadership,” Abernathy said.
Soukup said the administration would share information about a search process for a permanent executive director in the coming weeks.