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$500M Rebuild program receives Council committee approval

The bill is expected to earn final City Council approval next week

Mayor Jim Kenney (middle) has been touring Philly’s parks, rec centers, and libraries as the Rebuild program takes shape.
Courtesy of the City of Philadelphia

Mayor Jim Kenney’s $500 million Rebuild program, a cornerstone of his administration’s agenda, passed another milestone yesterday when a City Council committee voted to approve a bill that determines how the funds will be distributed and used.

After a series of delays and push backs, City Council’s Committee on the Whole voted at the end of the day to approve Bill No. 170206, the Philadelphia Inquirer first reported. The bill, when officially passed, will allow the city to borrow money from the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (PAID) to start renovating and improving Philly’s parks, rec centers, and libraries.

The bill states:

The City of Philadelphia [...] and the Philadelphia Authority for Industrial Development (“PAID”) have determined that PAID will [...] provide financial services to the City through the financing or refinancing of improvements to, and construction, demolition, renovation and equipping of, the City’s parks, libraries, playgrounds, recreation centers and other related facilities, and related costs such as workforce diversity and inclusion programs, community engagement and program administration (collectively, the “Project”), under the City’s program generally referred to as “Rebuild.”

Specifically, $300 million of the $500 million program will come from this bond borrowing, which will be paid for using revenue from the Philadelphia Beverage Tax (i.e. the soda tax).

It also clarifies what, going forth, will require City Council approval for the Rebuild program, including budget breakdowns for every project and what entities, whether public or private, will be hired to work on each project.

Yesterday’s vote is the latest step forward for the Rebuild program, which has been more than a year in the making. Rebuild has been touted as a key benefit of the city’s soda tax, which will provide funds for the program to improve Philly’s 400-plus, aging parks, libraries, and rec centers.

A lot of these funds have been tied up in litigation, and the Kenney administration has stated that it would be fiscally irresponsible to issue any bonds until the lawsuits against the city had been settled. Just days before the Rebuild vote, the Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of Philly and the beverage tax in a lawsuit filed by the American Beverage Association and local retailers.

Meanwhile, the $100 million grant from the William Penn Foundation was specifically contingent on approval of the city’s bond borrowing agreement. Nearly $5 million of the lump sum has already been handed out, and when the city’s $300 million bond passes the foundation will deliver another $75 million. The remaining $20 million will be awarded by offering $1 for every $2 raised via other charitable, private, and public donations.

With the committee’s approval, the bill now seeks final approval from the City Council, which the Inquirer says is expected to vote and pass the bill next Thursday.

If or when it passes, the city will then begin a competitive RFQ process to select what entities will help deliver Rebuild projects. The City has said it will also move forward on Rebuild using the existing funds it does have this summer.