ROCK HILL – The master developer of a 23-acre former textile site plans by the end of this year to begin work on the first component of the project: the renovation of a 260,000-square-foot industrial building called the Lowenstein building.
The redevelopment of the Bleachery site is part of Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park project, which the city hopes will revitalize its downtown area by bringing in new residential and commercial development. The project includes the Bleachery site and an additional 12 properties surrounding it.
Tim Elliott, director of design at Maryland-based Sora Development, said after a Knowledge Park Leadership Group meeting Wednesday that the Lowenstein building renovations could start as early as the fourth quarter of this year, and would take between six and eight months to complete.
The building will include 160,000 square feet office space and 60,000 square feet of multi-use space, and the remaining space will be retail, according to Elliott. One possibility for the multi-use space includes indoor sports facilities, such as soccer fields and volleyball courts.
Changes sought for district
But in order for Sora to start renovating the Lowenstein building, it has to finalize a development agreement with the city of Rock Hill, a process that’s been held up by the city’s efforts to expand and extend the timeframe of its textile corridor tax increment financing (TIF) district. The creation of the TIF district will determine some of the financing for Knowledge Park, which could affect Sora’s master plan.
The TIF district was established in 2004 to allow the city to issue up to $40 million in bonds for the redevelopment of the Bleachery site, which is the focal point of Knowledge Park. But because the redevelopment of the Bleachery site has moved more slowly than expected, the city proposed an extension of the district’s expiration date to 2039 from 2029, which would allow up to 25 years to pay off the bonds. The city also proposed expanding the TIF district to include the West Main Street and West Black Street corridors, both of which are southwest of the Bleachery site and run along the district’s current western boundary.
Because Rock Hill, the Rock Hill School District, and York County all receive tax revenue from properties within the district, all three have to approve the changes. The school district and the city approved the changes last year.
That means the decision to extend and expand the TIF district is ultimately up to the York County Council, which was advised on the proposal by a TIF Committee made up of council members Christi Cox, Robert Winkler and William “Bump” Rodney. The committee recommended the city’s proposal be amended, and the County Council voted in favor of authorizing County Manager Bill Shanahan and County Attorney Michael Kendree to negotiate an agreement with Rock Hill officials.
The committee members explained at the meeting that they were not against the city’s proposal, but that there were a few items that may need to be revised.
“The feel of the committee is to support the TIF, and I think part of what’s left – or remaining – to do now is to negotiate some of the items of concern,” Rodney said.
He cited as examples exempting some of the properties from the city’s proposed TIF district expansion and putting a cap on how much bond money the city could use annually.
Councilwoman Cox said that seeing the development agreement for the Bleachery site would help clarify the effects of making changes to the TIF district.
“I still don’t know that we have all the details because, frankly, it is difficult to assess what the impact is when you don’t have the development agreement in your hand,” she said.
Elliott said at Wednesday’s leadership group meeting that the development agreement should be finalized within the next 45 days.
Transportation options studied
After briefly discussing the County Council’s decision to amend the TIF district on Wednesday, the leadership group jumped right into its focus for 2015: identifying a viable transportation system that will connect Rock Hill’s downtown to the Bleachery site and the Bleachery site to Winthrop University.
Stephen Turner, executive director of Rock Hill Economic Development, a nonprofit organization that promotes business and economic growth, reminded the group throughout the meeting that the goal of the transportation system was to encourage transit-oriented development.
“If this is to be built, it needs to be built because it’s accelerating economic development, (because) it’s having an economic impact. That is ultimately what this is about, and if we cannot demonstrate that, then we do not need to do this,” he said.
The group is considering a variety of transportation options, but a streetcar system and battery-powered buses dominated Wednesday’s discussion.
Group members said a streetcar lined up with their vision for Knowledge Park, but acknowledged it would be expensive. They said buses were also a viable option, but Lawrence reminded the group that buses wouldn’t be as permanent as a streetcar system. A couple of group members suggested testing a bus system by buying only a couple buses initially, and then expanding the system if it works.
But Elliott said during a presentation that the transportation system needs to be developed with the future in mind, and that the attractiveness of a streetcar – especially to millennials – should not be understated.
“The transportation vehicle itself becomes part of the brand that is Rock Hill,” he said after the meeting.
The group’s goal is to make a transportation recommendation to the Rock Hill City Council in November. Between now and then, the group plans to travel to look at other cities’ transportation systems. Members of the leadership group and Rock Hill officials are traveling to Tucson, Arizona, on May 27 to check out the city’s Sun Link streetcar system.