A former professional football player from Harrisburg is leading an ambitious effort to build eco-friendly, mixed-used developments in Harrisburg and beyond, with sights first set on the former Bishop McDevitt High School.
Former NFL lineman Garry Gilliam, a Harrisburg native, is heading up a four-person development organization comprised of long-time friends who all attended the Milton Hershey School and Penn State.
“We’re going to build what I believe will help a lot of inner city people who don’t have the means or the resources or the education to do something like this for themselves,” Gilliam, CEO of a new development company called The Bridge, said on a phone call on Wednesday afternoon.
Gilliam spent five years in the NFL playing for the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers, which released him earlier this year.
Gilliam’s concept for The Bridge is wide-ranging. In sum, he wants to take existing, often-historic, urban structures, such as obsolete school buildings, and repurpose them for sustainable, 21st-century needs.
For instance, The Bridge first will create co-working, maker and event spaces within the former Bishop McDevitt, which is located at 2200 Market St. in Harrisburg. Gilliam said that he expects those projects to open in 2020.
Other elements of the proposed “Eco Village” project include sustainable, zero-energy housing, commercial areas and indoor urban agriculture. These pieces, which require more planning and engineering, are planned for future build-outs, Gilliam said.
“I said I have to help Harrisburg first,” he said. “I have to help this place I came from.”
The Bridge is leasing the Bishop McDevitt site from its owner, William Penn Holdings, which bought the sprawling, 115,000-square-foot building in March from the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg. The building has been empty since 2013, when the diocese moved the school to a new campus in Lower Paxton Township.
Gilliam said that he also has a proposal before the Harrisburg school district to purchase the former William Penn High School, which includes 25 acres of property near Italian Lake.
In a press release today, The Bridge said it “aims to acquire five to 30 acres in Harrisburg for sustainable Eco-Village campuses that will produce healthy fresh food, clean water and renewable energy.”
Currently, Harrisburg is considered a “food desert,” with poor access to nutritious food, Gilliam said.
He said that, over the years, he had thought up the various elements that he combined together for the overarching concept of The Bridge. Then, earlier this year, he was speaking with his friend, Corey Dupree, who came on board as chief operations officer.
The pair then brought on two other friends: Dezwaan Dubois, who now serves as chief information officer, and Rob DeJarnett, who is now is chief financial officer. All attended Milton Hershey and Penn State together.
Gilliam said his funding comes from himself and other investors, mostly other “athletes and entertainers.”
The Bridge plans to engage the community before embarking on its plans, said Dupree.
“Having the community input for everything will be very important,” he said.
This is the second time this year that professional football players from Harrisburg have announced plans to develop in the city. Over the summer, brothers LeSean and LeRon McCoy bought the former Curtis Funeral Home at the corner of N. 6th and Boas streets and are renovating it into three market-rate apartments, with retail space on the first floor.
The McCoy brothers have ambitious plans to build dozens of apartments on that block of N. 6th Street and the adjoining 400-block of Herr Street. However, currently, they own only the Curtis Funeral Home site (1000 N. 6th St.) and a small strip of grass at 1008 N. 6th St.
The Bridge also has very ambitious plans. After starting in Harrisburg, the partners hope to expand to other cities. On its website, The Bridge lists such cities as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Houston and Seattle as “pending areas.”
The Bridge website also lists a section of “partners,” which include 2020 Engineering, a Bellingham, Wash.-based environmental consulting and civil engineering company, Evergreen, Colo.-based Ecoponex Systems, which specializes in renewable urban agriculture, and AcquaCare Environment, a Bellingham-based aquaponics company.
“We don’t have everything down quite yet,” Dupree said. “Right now, as I say, we’re assembling the avengers.”
Find out more about The Bridge by visiting their website.