Project in Blacksville to be built in phases, offers park, more minority senior housing

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

The members of the predominately black community of Blacksville in McDonough, less than two miles south of the Square, have successfully triumphed over obstacles and challenges throughout a large portion of their lives, said Rodney Heard, Community Development Director for the City of McDonough.

A project proposed by one of that community’s visionaries is making progress and deserves one sentiment, Heard said: “Celebration.”

In this 2003 photo, developer Melvin Collins, left, reviews blueprint plans for Grier Manor with Dr. Harold Grier, and with Grier’s granddaughter and daughter, Ashley and Lorna Stallworth. Behind them is the house built by Grier’s grandparents in the early 1900s. File photo

“There’s reason to celebrate this project,” he said of the Grier Project. “It’s an investment in this community to further enhance its quality of life. We’re spending the additional time it takes to ensure the successful connection between the existing residents and future residents” of a proposed multi-million-dollar senior housing community.

The Grier Project involves purchase and development of a 20- to 25-acre tract of land along Old Griffin Road near Georgia Highway 155. The multi-phase project includes a recreational park, a residential building for seniors, a building for a non-profit organization, a mini-mall for retail space and an office building, Heard said.

The project’s tract of land surrounds the current site for Grier Manor Senior Apartments at 391 Old Griffin Road. Grier Manor is a community of 64 apartments built in 2005 for senior adults that includes a clubhouse with meeting space and a fitness room, an outdoor pavilion, recreation areas and other amenities.

Part of the land for Grier Manor was donated by Harold E. Grier, Ph.D., a 95-year-old biochemist who was one of the first acknowledged blacks from the Blacksville community to attend college. Greer taught biochemistry for years at Alcorn State University in Mississippi before returning to his native McDonough. Grier’s grandparents were slaves on the Weems Plantation near Hampton, who, after being freed in 1913 and with their former master’s help, bought the land at the 391 Old Griffin Road site and built a house on it.

Most everyone who meets Grier speaks of him with reverential tones and call him a visionary.

“Dr. Grier is one of the most determined individuals I’ve ever known,” said McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland. “He doesn’t give up. I admire him so. He handles himself with such class. He’s a special friend of this city.”

The city hosted a Creative Thinking Analysis of the project two weeks ago that Heard said affirmed the multi-phase construction approach.

The first phase, which may be completed in as little as four to six months, includes a recreation park with green spaces for casual play and outdoor events, and a pavilion that can be used for gatherings. Farmer’s markets, festivals and other events can be planned for the space, he said. The first phase allows those in the neighborhood “to become familiar with the site and interact with it,” Heard said, and helps build momentum for successive phases of the project.

The first phase also includes plans for a new building for a nonprofit organization. The planning group has spoken with Habitat for Humanity and other organizations about creating an office for themselves with donated materials on the Grier Project site. A pedestrian walkway along the front of the property connects all the proposed features of the Grier Project.

The centerpiece of later phases is a multi-floor building that adds more units to Grier Manor for not just senior adults, but possibly also single parents, all living and interacting together, he said.

Funding must be secured before future phases can be built, Heard said. An application for fiscal 2018 funding assistance with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs is due next summer from Grier’s company, Henry County Residential Housing Inc., a 501(c)3 organization. Competition for DCA funding dollars is keen, Heard said, with many worthy projects likely to apply. If the Grier Project does receive the funding in fiscal year 2018, the residential building could be completed as early as 2020, he said.

Grier’s daughter, Lorna Stallworth, said she is excited to see the progress on her father’s continued quest for affordable housing for Blacksville residents. “We’re real happy about it. I’m glad my father will have what he’s looking for, finally. He’s getting up there in age and I want him to make sure that he sees that at least it’s started. We tend to be long-livers in my family, so hopefully he’ll be here to see it completed, too.”

Stallworth said that Grier’s original idea was simply for a building similar to the existing structure to more than double the units available for seniors in the area. But with the current ideas that include recreation areas, retail space, an office building and a nonprofit building, “I think I like it better this way. I think it’s going to be real pretty and really help bring up our (Blacksville) area.

“The people want something to go on there, actually. It’s just a field right now. I can’t wait, I think it’s really going to be wonderful.”

Editor’s Note: Next week, The Henry County Times looks at the fascinating life of visionary community developer Dr. Harold E. Grier.