Rock Hill’s long-term development project aimed at revitalizing the city’s ‘Bleachery’ textile site has experienced some setbacks since the director of design at Sora Development, Tim Elliot, left the project in June.
The Bleachery is at the center of the city’s efforts to establish a thriving downtown area in Rock Hill through its Knowledge Park plan.
Representatives from Sora, Director Tom Fore and Vice President of Development Patrick Rhodes, traveled from the company’s Maryland office to attend a Knowledge Park Leadership meeting Tuesday morning in Rock Hill to provide updates concerning the development process.
The leadership team is made up of private and public representatives of the project’s extensive roster of potential partners, and acts as an advisory group for the Rock Hill City Council.
Some members of the leadership team expressed concerns following Sora’s presentation about the development progress that has been made since Elliot left the project.
One of the leadership team members asked Fore and Rhodes if the new timeline was Sora’s way of deciding when it will start spending its own money.
The city bought the 23-acre Bleachery site in 2010, a $6 million investment that made the Knowledge Park project possible. This ownership also gives Rock Hill complete control over all development decisions.
Earlier this year, Sora – in collaboration with Phelps Construction Group – projected that work on the site was possible in early 2015, but Fore and Rhodes informed the leadership team at the meeting that this process is not likely to begin until fall 2015.
“There are things that are going to need to get done before the trigger gets pulled,” Fore told the leadership team at the meeting. “A lot of what we’ve been doing the last few months is gathering the intel we needed to make sure we’re on the right track.”
He also said that Elliot was “resistant” to pull Phelps into the process and that “Elliot’s engagement with Phelps didn’t necessarily get us as far as we could have.”
Sora representatives told the leadership team that settling on a sound financial structure was the most important thing right now.
Andy Shene, chairman of the leadership team, also said there are a lot of things to consider before moving forward with the project.
“The concern is all of those moving parts have to come together to pull off a project like this,” he said. “It’s just the concern of trying to bring all of this together to be able to get the development moving.”
The Rock Hill City Council agreed to a year-long memorandum of understanding with Sora last year, which expired on September 13. The developer proposed a continuation of its relationship with the city through an interim agreement in order to “work towards definitive agreements.”
This could solidify Sora’s involvement with the Knowledge Park project, and allow the developer to move towards implementing its master plan for the Bleachery.
“The city is committed to make the project work no matter who it’s using,” said Rock Hill City Council member John Black. “It really comes down to whether the city and Sora come down to a development agreement, whether Tim’s there or not.”
Putting ‘master’ in master plan
Sora representatives were confident that Rock Hill would be pleased with its master plan.
Rhodes said the plan would clarify a lot of questions that have gone unanswered at this point, such as how the site’s potential properties would be split up, what role subdivisions would have at the site, and how the development would manage to “go vertical.”
“If you establish a structure that really incentivizes development on the front end, but also establishes the framework for the city and makes sure that they are capitalizing on the true value of what they’re contributing to the venture, then everybody wins,” he said. “It’s essentially the road map that will push this project forward.”
Shene said Sora “understands the big picture.”
In addition to the money that Rock Hill spent on acquiring the site, the city plans to continue offering financial help through tax increments on the site’s potential properties, according to Black.
He said this money would be used primarily for the upkeep of the site’s infrastructure.
Sora is targeting the Lowenstein building for Phase 1 of the development process, which would include more than renovation work to 275,000 square feet of the existing, adjoined Lowenstein and 1939 buildings.
The plan in its entirety has eight phases, comprised of housing structures for Winthrop University, a senior housing facility, retail and office space, apartment buildings, town house multiplexes, a parking deck, a textile museum and an “arts incubator” center with art studios.
The $180 million project is set to unfold over the next seven to nine years.
Revitalization outside the Bleachery
One of the city’s Knowledge Park partners, Rock Hill-based Comporium Communications, began construction on its Rock Hill revitalization component in July. The company is building a new 48,000 square foot office space called Fountain Park Place in the city’s “Old East Town,” and the construction is being done by Warren Norman Inc.
Following suit with Comporium’s efforts to jumpstart downtown revitalization efforts, the city is building a parking deck with 194 spaces next to the new Comporium building, as well as a new downtown park called Fountain Park.
Although Comporium’s development project and the city’s project are located outside the Bleachery site, both are considered to be part of the Knowledge Park development plan.
The grand opening for Fountain Park Place is set for the weekend of Nov. 14, and demolition to make way for the new downtown park is set for early October.
“A town lacking a strong downtown would be nothing more than a bedroom community,” Black said. “Having a huge business retail thriving center is very important to us.”