Mayor Kenney will be launching an ambitious, $600 million neighborhood plan to repair and reorganize the hundreds of city recreation centers, parks, and libraries.
The plan, which Kenney will spell out during Thursday's budget address, will likely be the new mayor's biggest initiative while in office. It will be aggressive in scope and timeline - six years to overhaul the city's neighborhood public space facilities.
The administration plans a bond sale to raise half the funds, with the remainder coming from philanthropic institutions and other government sources.
"This is going to be one of the largest public investments in the country," said Brian Abernathy, first deputy managing director. "This is certainly the largest in the city recently. It's an exciting project, it can have a huge impact in our neighborhoods."
The project is the brainchild of Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis, who oversaw the Department of Parks and Recreation under Mayor Michael Nutter. He put the wheels in motion last summer by asking the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. (PIDC) to collect and analyze data with a $500,000 planning grant from the William Penn Foundation.
The grant preceded Kenney as mayor, but DiBerardinis said the mayor has been on board with the plan since last summer.
"We've spent the last six months looking at the current system and trying to understand what some of the challenges are of these facilities," Abernathy said. "Every facility is different and, quite frankly, we're not going to be able to invest in every facility."
There are 156 recreation centers and playgrounds, 143 neighborhood parks, and 54 libraries throughout the city.
Some of those sites could be "colocated," which Abernathy said could mean merging a few sites near each other into one "super site" or sharing resources between sites that are 500 feet apart.
"We're not ruling out new construction, but this is really about trying to focus on current assets rather than creating new ones," Abernathy said.
Abernathy said he did not expect there would be a master plan, but, instead, the administration will work with each district City Council member to assess what the priorities are in each of the 10 districts and how the money should be spent.
Council President Darrell L. Clarke declined to comment on Kenney's plan before the mayor officially makes the proposal.
Mayor John F. Street used a similar bond issuance when he launched his ambitious Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. The $300 million bond sale financed Street's signature effort to eliminate blight in Philadelphia.
Kenney plans to issue the $300 million in bonds for his project in three phases. This will be in addition to other city bonds issued to fund regular capital projects, city Finance Director Rob Dubow said.
But to get the project done in six years, DiBerardinis said, the city will need to contract out a lot of work.
"We will need to use other alternative means like PAID [Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development], contract with construction managers," DiBerardinis said. "We will need to be creative. . . . We will need to go outside existing government to have the capacity to do what this initiative entails."