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Knowledge Park Leadership Group weighs transportation options

The city of Rock Hill is seeking the approval of the York County Council to amend its downtown/textile corridor Tax Increment Financing District as part of its effort to redevelop the area into a project known as Knowledge Park.

The city of Rock Hill is seeking the approval of the York County Council to amend its downtown/textile corridor Tax Increment Financing District as part of its effort to redevelop the area into a project known as Knowledge Park.

ROCK HILL — City officials and community leaders continue exploring viable transportation options for the city’s Knowledge Park project ahead of a York County Council decision that will determine some of the project’s funding.

The Knowledge Park Leadership Group, a public-private body that’s heading up the project, met Friday to discuss what transportation options are most feasible for the city and find out what members learned on visits to two transportation systems in other cities. HDR Inc., an engineering company the city hired to do a transportation feasibility study, will present a comparison of different transportation options at the next leadership group meeting July 15.

Knowledge Park is a public-private initiative that includes a corridor from Old Town East to Winthrop University in which the city hopes to revitalize a former textile tract and attract high-tech employers and private development.

Part of its efforts to do that included creating a special textile corridor tax increment financing (TIF) district in 2004 that allowed the city to issue up to $40 million in bonds for the redevelopment of a 23-acre textile site known as the Bleachery; improve roads, landscaping, water, sewer and drainage in the Knowledge Park area; and build parking structures.

The city now wants to amend the district’s boundaries and timeline, but to do so needs the approval of York County and the Rock Hill School District, both of which would lose property tax revenue under the agreement. The school district has approved it; the County Council has not. Council members have said in the  past that the city has not provided enough detail on what the money would be used for and that the project doesn’t benefit the whole county.

Under the agreement, the amount of money the county and school district receive from property taxes within the district would be frozen at 2004 levels. Any increase due to property appreciation would instead fund the city’s redevelopment efforts.

Rock Hill has requested the district’s expiration date be extended to 2039 from 2029, which would allow it sufficient time to pay off its bond debt on funds that have not yet been used. So far, the city has spent $6.5 million on the acquisition of the Bleachery and demolition and cleanup projects there, as well as making improvements to White Street and other roads.The city also proposed expanding the 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.

The county is slated to vote June 15 on the third and final reading of an ordinance that would amend its agreement with the city and accept its proposed changes. At a public hearing at its meeting June 1, several residents spoke in opposition to the agreement, saying they wanted more detail on how the city planned to spend the money.

Stephen Turner, a member of the Knowledge Park Leadership Group and executive director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp, said he hopes the county approves the amended agreement in its current form.

“With the county’s consent to the changes that the city has requested in the TIF agreement, it creates the opportunity for funding a variety of public improvements,” he said.

The money generated by the TIF district could also be used for what Turner has called the “catalyst” of the Knowledge Park project: a transportation system.

The leadership group is considering either a streetcar or a bus system to connect downtown to Winthrop University.

The group is leaning toward a streetcar system because of the ambience it creates and its permanence, which the group believes would be more attractive to private developers.

Members of the group recently visited Tucson, Arizona, to look at its Sun Link streetcar system because it connects downtown Tucson to the University of Arizona, which is similar to what Rock Hill wants to do.

Rock Hill’s goal is to connect downtown to Winthrop University, but the County Council has requested the city consider a transportation system that would benefit the whole county by connecting downtown to the Piedmont Medical Center to the northwest and York Technical College to the southeast.

Turner said that using a combination of a streetcar and buses would be the most feasible way to connect all four areas.

Members of the leadership group also visited Cleveland last week to check out its bus system.

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