Black clergy group promises to put pressure on for recreation center redevelopment

From left, Revs. Jeanette Davis, Robert Collier Sr. and Greg Holston show ceiling damage in the Waterview Recreation Center's Gym in Northwest Philadelphia. (Abdul R. Sulayman/ The Philadelphia Tribune).

From left, Revs. Jeanette Davis, Robert Collier Sr. and Greg Holston show ceiling damage in the Waterview Recreation Center's Gym in Northwest Philadelphia. (Abdul R. Sulayman/ The Philadelphia Tribune).

The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity is not happy with the state of disrepair throughout the city’s parks and recreational centers.

Since October, clergy members have gathered in front of Waterview Recreation Center in Germantown and Cecil B. Moore Recreation Centers to discuss the lack of resources and the rundown nature of the facilities overall.

Many of the city’s recreation centers are decayed and lack proper staffing, support or programs to serve the youth in the communities. Some of the facilities have been closed altogether in neighborhoods that need them the most.

“The Rebuild program has not satisfied us because there are too many recreation centers where nothing has been done,” said Rev. Robert Collier Sr., president of The Black Clergy.

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“We want immediate results, immediate funding. We don’t want to wait for the Philadelphia Rebuild plan to go into effect, it’s already supposedly in effect,” he continued.

The Rebuild program is a commitment to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into 72 sites across the city with an investment from the William Penn Foundation and the money from the soda tax.

“Rebuild is a first-of-its-kind initiative investing $400 million in over 70 City Council-legislated public spaces throughout the entire city of Philadelphia,” said Raymond Smeriglio, communications director for Rebuild. “This summer and fall alone, we’ve broken ground on over $20 million worth of projects and cut the ribbon on sites in neighborhoods like North Central Philly, Mantua, East Poplar and Kingsessing.”

“And we get our funding from the sugary beverage tax. The mayor worked with City Council to pass the city’s sugary beverage tax, and … it was passed on the auspices and the guarantee that it would exclusively fund three programs. One is community schools, the second is PHL pre-K, and the third is Rebuild,” Smeriglio continued. “And so Rebuild represents a $400 million investment in our parks, rec centers, libraries, our public spaces that you know desperately needed uplifting.”

In Germantown, members of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia stood in front of the Waterview center to demand changes and actions to upgrade the rundown facility. Waterview is not currently a part of the Rebuild list of developments that will be renovated and rebuilt.

Rebuild has two operational procedures for renovations: The city works on some projects, and other upgrades are done through non-profit organizations. The non-profits work with the centers to develop blueprints and a plan for rebuilding a safe and updated community space.

Beech Interplex Inc. has been delegated to work with Cecil B. Moore Recreation Center to develop a renovation plan for the center.

Rev. Clarerence Wright of Love Zion Baptist Church said the Cecil B. Moore center is the heart of the North Philadelphia neighborhood. He said the center was on the Rebuild list but has yet to see any redevelopment.

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“Years ago, before the beginning of the soda tax, we were told that this rec center was No. 2 on the list,” Wright said. “Now, if you look at where we are, if No. 2 on the list has not seen a single nail and a single hammer go into a wall, what does that say about for 3 or 4, No. 50 or 67?”

The Black Clergy of Philadelphia said it wants safe havens for youth in the city of Philadelphia. The city has a gun violence epidemic that has claimed almost record numbers of victims in non-fatal and fatal incidents. The Black Clergy leader said recreation centers should offer playgrounds, programs and guidance to keep kids safe and off the streets.

Kira Strong, executive director of the Rebuild Infrastructure, said she wants to help address the Black clergy group’s concern over violence plaguing the city.

“You know, we certainly understand their concern around gun violence and making sure the city has the resources that it needs,” Strong said. “We certainly would welcome a conversation with them directly, as well. I think, you know, we’re on the same team in terms of wanting to make sure that we as a city provide really good, high-quality resources to children and to families in the city. And that’s what Rebuild is all about.”

Members of the clergy group have said they will continue to highlight the recreation sites that need work until the work gets done.

“We’re going to keep showing up at the worst of the recreation centers in need of repair or in need of completely new buildings, holding press conferences until we see the kind of movement that this concern deserves,” said the Rev. Gregory Holston, chair of the Black Clergy Criminal Justice Reform Committee.

Rebuild was slowed by litigation against the soda tax, and the pandemic also delayed work.

“We’re really proud that we’ve been able to either launch some projects in the past months, over the summer and into the fall and complete some projects as well,” Strong said. “We also feel that urgency around making sure that Rebuild delivers on our promise to listen to community voices.”

Strong said her team works with City Council members to address which centers have the most urgent need for rehabilitation.

She said that equity in Rebuild projects is a huge focus for Mayor Jim Kenney.

“So our sites tend to be in high-need neighborhoods … So our goal is to get in and do as much as we can, but of course, then prioritizing urgent needs,” Strong said.

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