Gillespie Gardens begins construction, revitalizing Historic District

Published 9:50 am Thursday, January 20, 2022



Vecino Group and community partners will deliver transformative housing while honoring Gillespie-Selden heritage.

Cordele, Georgia – January 17, 2022:  One of Cordele’s most historic addresses is about to welcome a new generation to its 120-year-old legacy. Gillespie Gardens, a new housing development within the Gillespie-Selden Historic District, is scheduled to begin construction next month.

Located on approximately five acres within the Gillespie-Selden Urban Redevelopment Area in Cordele, Georgia, Gillespie Gardens is the latest renovation proposal in the neighborhood revitalization project that the City of Cordele has been working on since 2008.

With a vision of the site serving its community once more, the City—with ample energy and leadership from the late Edward Beach—applied for and received grant funding, established a revitalization plan for the area, created an active GICH (Georgia Initiative for Community Housing) community, removed blighted structures in the area and made sure that all historic buildings were listed on the National Register. All of this—with the assistance of development partner Vecino Group—created an opportunity for Gillespie Gardens to be one of the highest-scoring LIHTC Tax Credit developments of its application period.

The historic site for which the neighborhood is known, The Gillespie-Selden Institute, is a complex of education and medical buildings that first opened as a school for African American children in 1902. In addition to the school, structures on the property have also included two hospitals and a church which served African Americans who were injured or homeless.

“A lot of people locally don’t know any of the history of Gillespie Selden—I am hoping that this is an opportunity for them to learn about its impact,” explains Mary Beal, Cordele Historian. “Teachers, seamstresses, brickmasons, nurses, bankers—generations of people graduated from here.”

The development involves the adaptive reuse of four historic buildings, all individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as the construction of one three-story building designed to complement the existing historic buildings and neighborhood. The 53 housing units at Gillespie Gardens will include a mix of efficiency and 1-, 2-, or 3-bedroom units serving individuals and families who are at or below 60% of the area median income.

Design and Architecture for Gillespie Gardens—both historic adaptation and new build—was performed by Vecino Design, LLC. Construction for Gillespie Gardens will be overseen by Vecino

Construction, LLC as General Contractor. Initial site work will begin in early February with an anticipated completion of construction by Summer 2023.

Designed to serve as a central effort in the revitalization and transformation of the Cordele Historic District, this catalytic housing development is a collaborative effort between the Vecino Group, the City of Cordele, Blackshear Place Business & Events Center, and the St. Paul Presbyterian Church.

“Gillespie Gardens will be a catalyst for the redevelopment of the West side” says Dravian McGill, President of DCMS, who has long been an advocate for reviving Gillespie-Selden. “This will help to further housing and economic development across the street as well as reverse the blight.”

Jerome Outlaw, Chief Financial Officer of the St. Paul Presbyterian Church, has been an advocate for sharing the site’s history of supporting the Black community. “These grounds are to be respected. The individuals who graduated from Gillespie love this school as if it were open today. This is something to connect to—as Black people.”

Honoring the historical and cultural significance of the Gillespie-Selden Institute has been key for all stakeholders in the project. “Respecting the communities we work with is essential to our mission at Vecino,” said Rick Manzardo, President of the Vecino Group. “From the very beginning, everyone involved with Gillespie Gardens has made celebration of this noble and historic place their first priority.”About the Developer

The Vecino Group is a national housing company dedicated to building a better world, one development, one community at a time. Each project the company undertakes must address a broader need, set an example, give back to the community, and inspire the professionals working on it with a sense of higher purpose. The company has completed more than two dozen impactful housing developments across 13 states.







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Beal-Shephard tries to weather the storm over City HallBy Neil B. McGahee Managing Editor Cordele City Commissioner Vesta Beal-Shephard was elected in 2001 to represent the people of Ward One. By all accounts, she has done a very good job of relating to the citizens living in her ward. Recently, however, a dark cloud has settled over City Hall. From the first day of his term, newly-elected commission chairman Joshua Antwan Deriso began taking verbal snipes on social media at some of the other commissioners. Shephard says she just ignored it at first but on April 9, Deriso posted on Facebook “…It was much anticipated for Comm. Rainey to be against change. Comission (sp) Shephard fights against me the hardest…does not know much about government at all…She needs to be voted out next year 2023.” A few days later, he posted live saying …“I am totally over the games, the political stuff…a lot of people want to make what I said about Commissioner Shephard something about disagreement with Commissioner Shephard. It was her ignorance and short-sightedness…not able to understand what we can do as a government. “When there were people in charge that didn’t look like us…white people… she didn’t question anything. Since I became chairman, she has blocked everything…you don’t know what you are doing; you don’t know what you are talking about.” Shephard winces as she listens to Deriso. “I don’t do drama and I don’t do pettiness,” she said. “I refute everything he has said about me. I’m not angry with Josh; I am somewhat disturbed that he has targeted me, a citizen of Cordele; a black female…he accused me of loving white folks. Well I do love white folks, and brown folks and black folks — Haitian, Jamaican, Indian, Cuban, Mexican — I have no discrimination to anyone. My job is to facilitate for people in this ward and when I vote, I vote my conviction.” Shephard said she doesn’t know why Deriso has such hard feelings against her. “It’s so sad, I have to say that I never saw it coming,” she said. ”But I have to voice my opinion.” But one sad thing has evolved from this. “This is the first time I have been discriminated against by a fellow commissioner,” she said. “I used to invite people to my home if they had a problem. But I had to stop that. If you want to meet with me, we will have to go to a public area or to my office at city hall. I am going to keep my distance for the simple reason that I don’t want to endanger myself.