San Francisco Leaders and Community Members Break Ground on New Gene Friend Recreation Center in SoMa

Funded largely by a voter-approved bond, the new hub in the South of Market neighborhood will replace a 45-year-old rec center, providing 50% more space for sports and community
February 05, 2024

San Francisco, CA — Mayor London N. Breed joined City leaders and community members today to break ground on the transformative Eugene L. Friend Recreation Center project, which will replace the old facility with a bright, modern hub with 50% more space to serve the needs of children, families, and seniors in the vibrant SoMa neighborhood. Opening of the new center is projected for mid-2026. 

At the heart of the $59 million project at 270 6th Street is a commitment to neighborhood connection and well-being. The 25,000 square foot center will be able to accommodate a diverse array of activities and classes aimed at all ages. It includes a gymnasium with two full size basketball courts surrounded by expansive windows for natural light, as well as an inviting new entry on Harriet Street.   

The design features a modern exercise area, a kitchenette, reception area and office, and two multi-purpose rooms connected to both the entry lobby and new exterior playground, creating a safe and protected area for supervised play. Additional outdoor amenities in the dense urban area include a picnic area and sport court, all complemented by new landscaping and lighting.  

“San Francisco has the greatest parks in the country, and with the new Gene Friend Rec Center, they are about to get even better,” said Mayor London Breed. “I’m so proud we are going to be delivering a bigger, brighter and more beautiful space for the SoMa community to come together to gather and play. I’m thankful to our Recreation and Parks Department for leading on this project, for the philanthropic support we’ve received, and to the voters of this city who always step up to support our parks.” 

“Today marks a significant step forward for the Gene Friend Recreation Center and the South of Market community,” said District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey. “We’re not just renovating a building, we’re transforming this space into a dynamic community hub where thousands of youth, families, and seniors can engage and build lasting connections. This groundbreaking isn’t just a construction project — it’s a promise to create a functional, inclusive space that will serve our neighborhood and its communities for generations.”  

The Health and Recovery Bond introduced by Mayor Breed and approved by voters with more than 70% approval, provided $30 million in funding for the project. The Trust for Public Land provided an in-kind grant of $520,500 to fund the project’s feasibility study and design process through a gift from the Friend Family Foundation. Additional funding was provided through developer impact fees.  

“As SoMa’s population grew over the past three decades, the Gene Friend Recreation Center remained a beacon for neighborhood connection. We are thrilled to work with the community to make this beloved place bigger, stronger, and better able to serve residents for generations to come,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg

Beginning in 2014, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and Trust for Public Land led extensive public outreach on the project with community groups United Playaz and West Bay Filipino Multi-Service Center. Community priorities included basketball courts, flexible meeting areas, exercise and game rooms, and space for dance, performances and events.  

"Close-to-home park space is so critical for mental and physical health and when completed, this new and expanded recreation center will help benefit so many SoMa residents," said Guillermo Rodriguez, VP of the Pacific Region for Trust for Public Land. "TPL is proud to have worked alongside the community to bring their vision to life – with our thanks to the community and San Francisco Recreation and Parks – and to help honor the late Gene Friend who worked for years to bring San Francisco parks to everyone."   

Built in 1990, the former SoMa Rec Center was renamed in 2002 for Eugene L. Friend, who served on the San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission for 24 years, including 13 years as its President.  

“During my father’s many years of service to San Francisco, especially with the Rec and Park Commission, he always prioritized making our parks, rec centers and zoo accessible to all residents in every part of the city,” said Donny Friend. “He would be so proud to know that this great center that bears his name will be able to facilitate the uplifting and coming together of this close community and all that surround it.”   

The longtime community gathering spot is located in the heart of the SoMa Pilipinas Filipino Cultural Heritage District. Youth programs keep the facility bustling, while its gym has been a busy spot for pickup basketball games, including wheelchair basketball.    

“The Gene Friend Rec Center is SoMa’s only indoor rec facility and as such is an invaluable safe haven for youth,” said Misha Olivas, Director of Community and Family Engagement for United Playaz. “We are so excited for this renovation and cannot wait to come home to run programs for the kids in a brand new facility.”  

Mark Cavagnero Associates, in a joint venture with Kuth Ranieri Architects, designed the new center.   

“As a firm based in San Francisco, we are deeply committed to supporting the Bay Area community through impactful projects, like the Eugene L. Friend Rec Center, that knit together our civic fabric. We worked with Kuth Ranieri Architects to conceive of the new building as a neighborhood beacon that will provide greater access to public amenities and create an enclave for play within the South of Market district,” said Mark Cavagnero, founding principal of Mark Cavagnero Associates. “We look forward to beginning construction on the project site in the coming weeks and for the center to open in 2026.”