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Public-private partnership essential to Riverwalk success

The public-private partnership that led to the development of Riverwalk, a multi-use project still under construction in Rock Hill, was the subject of discussion at CREW Charlotte's May luncheon. Photo courtesy riverwalkcarolinas.com.

The public-private partnership that led to the development of Riverwalk, a multi-use project still under construction in Rock Hill, was the subject of discussion at CREW Charlotte’s May luncheon. Photo courtesy riverwalkcarolinas.com.

CHARLOTTE – A public-private partnership was the key to making the Riverwalk development in Rock Hill happen, a developer of the project told the Commercial Real Estate Women’s Charlotte chapter at a luncheon Tuesday.

David Williams, managing director of The Assured Group of Companies, explained to about 200 members of CREW why partnering with Rock Hill worked. The luncheon was held at Charlotte Country Club.

Williams said that Rock Hill officials had a “progressive nature” that kept them open to The Assured Group’s ideas for the project, but also that it wasn’t easy to get the city onboard in the middle of the recession with a proposal to develop 1,000 acres.

“It took us a year to really engage with them and start the process for a public-private partnership,” Williams said.

The $600 million development near the Catawba River, just east of North Cherry Road and north of downtown Rock Hill, includes single-family homes, a business park, a town center, a mixed-use “river district” and 250 acres of public recreation facilities that make up the Rock Hill Outdoor Center.

The Assured Group bought the property in 2005, and Williams said it took two years to demolish a former Celanese textile plant and clean up the site. In 2009, The Assured Group received approval for Riverwalk from the Rock Hill City Council.

“We didn’t want to make a master plan that showed a million square feet of retail, or 10 million square feet of industrial. It had to be market-based,” he said.

And that idea – not limiting the project to specific quantities of uses – was part of the development agreement between Rock Hill and The Assured Group. It made the master plan flexible so it could be adapted to market conditions.

Williams said that in order to get Rock Hill onboard, the company took city officials on a three-day retreat to help devise the development strategy.

It would be easier for them to get it passed. That was our logic,” he said.

Rock Hill issued $10.5 million in bonds to help fund the public portion of the project in 2009, and has continued to support the project since then.

Construction at Riverwalk is well underway. Some of the single-family homes have been built, 1.7 million square feet of industrial space has been built in the business park, the first 174 apartment units in the town center will open in June and Riverwalk’s first retail stores are scheduled to open by October.

Williams said the most unique thing about the site was its river frontage, and the development’s river district is being built with that in mind. The dense, walkable district will include ground-level retail with office space and apartments on the upper floors of buildings, and four restaurants that will overlook the Catawba River.

Currently, 65,000 square feet of the planned 220,000 square feet of space in the district is under construction, and that should be completed by fall. The entire district is scheduled to be completed in the next two to three years, Williams said.

The outdoor center includes a velodrome, which is a high-speed cycling track, a BMX track, mountain bike trails, athletic fields and a launch area on the river for kayakers and canoers.

The velodrome and the BMX track have already drawn in national events. Last year, Rock Hill hosted the USA Cycling Elite Track National Championships, and will host the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championships this year. Also, the city in March hosted the USA Cycling Elite National BMX Championships, and is scheduled to host the BMX World Championships in 2017.

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