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York Council seeks information on Knowledge Park plan

YORK – The County Council wants more details on a Rock Hill revitalization project before amending an existing agreement with the school district and the city that would likely reduce the county’s share of property tax revenue by $2.8 million over the next 24 years.

Rock Hill wants to expand and extend the timeframe of a textile corridor tax increment financing (TIF) district in its downtown area to support its goals for Knowledge Park, a public-private effort to attract development to the area. But the city needs the approval of the County Council because Rock Hill, York County and the Rock Hill School District all receive tax revenue from properties within the district.

The city and the school district approved changes to the TIF district last year.

On Monday, the County Council approved the second of three readings after a public hearing on a proposal to amend the TIF district, but only to keep it alive while they negotiate with the city over proposed changes to the agreement before the final reading May 18.

The TIF district was established in 2004 to allow the city to issue up to $40 million in bonds for the redevelopment of a 23-acre site in Rock Hill known as the Bleachery, which is the focal point of Knowledge Park. It freezes the school district’s and the county’s shares of tax revenues for properties located in the district at 2004 levels, and any increases in taxes collected on those properties instead goes to the city until the district’s designation expires.

The bond revenues would be used for infrastructure in the district and to provide development incentives that the city is hoping will entice development that would increase property tax revenues over time.

One of the projects the Knowledge Park Leadership Group is considering is building a streetcar system that would connect downtown Rock Hill to the Bleachery site and the Bleachery site to Winthrop University.

The city hopes the Knowledge Park project will revitalize its downtown area by bringing in new residential and commercial development. It includes the Bleachery site and an additional 12 properties surrounding it.

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 and West Black street corridors, both of which are southwest of the Bleachery site and run along the district’s current western boundary.

County Councilman Robert Winkler said that although he voted in favor of the second reading, there were still a couple of “sticking points” that had to be addressed in order for him to approve the final reading.

Winkler was one of five council members to approve the second reading Monday night, but Councilwoman Christi Cox voted against the proposed changes, as she did at the first reading. Bruce Henderson also voted no.

She said Rock Hill had yet to provide sufficient details on what bond revenues will be used for, and that until she sees a list of specific development projects and a development agreement between the city and Sora Development, which is developing the master plan for the Bleachery site, she would remain opposed.

“’Does the county not support Rock Hill revitalization?’ That’s not the question. The question is, ‘Who should pay for it?’” she said.

If the timeframe of the TIF district were extended, the county would lose a minimum of $2.8 million in property tax revenue between now and 2039, according to Cox.

“$2.8 million from start to end will not make or break this project,” she said.

Resident Ragin Craig said the council should not approve something it knows so little about.

“This is not economic development in its true sense because we don’t know what we’re getting; we have no clue,” he said.

The make-or-break component for the other council members is the development agreement between Rock Hill and Sora. The majority of council members said theywould not approve the final reading without the development agreement being finalized.

“The county – in essence – is a partner in this contract. We have a right to know what the contract says,” said Councilman Michael Smith.

In responding to an email with several questions about the contract, Knowledge Park Development Manager David Lawrence said he could not comment on any aspect while Rock Hill was negotiating the terms of the agreement with the county.

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