Gerry Schapiro, Rock Hill’s deputy city manager, has seen the city go from a small southern textile town to a city that attracts business and development, residents from all over the country and international sports tourism.
Schapiro, 70, came to Rock Hill for what he thought we be six months of work for the Model Cities Program, which was started during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration to help cities with economic development and government. He said he never expected that to turn into a 45-year career.
He was with the city when it started building sports complexes to attract tournaments and when the city made a controversial decision to buy a stake in the Catawba Nuclear Station power plant, which Duke Energy operates.
He has been a senior member of the city’s staff at a time that Rock Hill is working on the Knowledge Park redevelopment project, in which a public-private partnership is working to revitalize a corridor from Old Town East to Winthrop University. The group is hoping to attract high-tech employers and private development on a former textile tract that includes the 23-acre site of what was known as the Bleachery.
During Schapiro’s time with Rock Hill, he has worked as the planning and management director, in which he headed the city’s planning department and managed grants that the city received. He also worked as the finance director and municipal clerk, and as the acting city manager from 2001 to 2002. Before arriving in Rock Hill, he worked as an investment banker on Wall Street and in government consulting in San Francisco.
Schapiro starts his new job as a part-time project manager for the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) BMX World Championships with the city on Jan. 1. His job will be to organize community events, find volunteers and economic development opportunities for the event and serve as a co-chair of the committee organizing the event. The championship competition will be held in summer 2017 at the Novant Health BMX Supercross Track.
Schapiro declined to say if that will be his last job with the city, but he said he plans on staying in Rock Hill when he retires. He met his wife of 34 years, Barbara, in Rock Hill and they raised three children in the city.
What are the biggest challenges the city is facing now in terms of its rapid development?
It does put a lot of pressure on the infrastructure, more on the water and sewer, so there are a lot of major improvements that need to be done now. We do invest every single year in electric, water and sewer (infrastructure). There’s always more you can do in the downtown area.
How can the city overcome those challenges?
I think we have had visionary leadership from the mayor and City Council for a long time to help overcome the challenges. I think it will take a combination of good leadership, good planning, good staff, and not just in the city manager’s office.
What are the benefits of rapid development and what problems could it create?
We have done a very good job in generating hospitality money, in generating accommodation money and in development impact fees, so I think we have a broad array of financial revenues coming into the city to support the growth. The problem with growth is growth is very expensive in the short run. It is very expensive now for infrastructure. As more people move here there is more traffic here and that puts more pressure on infrastructure, particularly roads.
What is the city doing to address any problems with rapid development and what is your role in that?
We have used the time of no growth from 2008 to 2012 to shore up our existing systems and have made investments in that time. We try to be proactive and make plans (for growth). My role is more to keep the city’s day-to-day operations going. My job is to make sure that things are happening and happening smoothly.
What impact do you expect Knowledge Park to have on the city?
I think Knowledge Park will have a tremendous impact in the city. We need to turn those acres into something that can have a mixed use and have a positive impact on the city. I think it is going to bring a tremendous amount of jobs to the city. It will bring more residents to downtown, more taxpayers downtown and it will support the businesses downtown.
What development projects do you remember the most in Rock Hill and why?
We turned downtown Rock Hill into a suburban mall. We put a roof over (part of Main Street) downtown. The city purchased all of the parking for downtown. We tried to look at why suburban malls were successful and we tried to have one in downtown. While it certainly didn’t accomplish all of the goals we had, it did show the community that the city made an investment downtown. It was called the Town Center Mall. It did preserve the downtown and some of the old buildings.
I think we have done major investments in city facilities. The City Hall, I think, is a spectacular city hall.
I think some of the most spectacular things we have done have been in the sports tourism. We have award-winning facilities. We have our Cherry Park which is 28 years old. We have national tournaments there. It is in the National Softball Association’s Hall of Fame. We have the Rock Hill Tennis Center that we have USTA (United States Tennis Association) tennis tournaments there. We have the Manchester Meadows soccer complex where we have had national tournaments here. We have the Giordana Velodrome and we have the BMX facility. We are having the world championship (for BMX) in 2017 there. It’s the first time a world championship has been held in the United States in 18 years.
What is the most controversial development project you recall during your time with the city, why was it controversial and how did the city handle it?
One of the sports projects that I just mentioned, the Cherry Park project that we did about 30 years ago that was a sports tourism project. That was one of the two most controversial projects that I think we have ever done and it was controversial because it was a first project (for sports tourism). It was way ahead of its time.
What made it controversial is it was a vacant piece of land on Cherry Road. I think when the city talked about buying this (land), I think the public was expecting that we would bring stores there because stores would attract more business, more people and more money. We tried to make the case that, no, we needed to preserve more green space in the city and this park could be an economic development benefit.
The other most controversial deal was about the same time as Cherry Park. Duke proposed to the cities in South Carolina and North Carolina that they would sell part of their nuclear power plants so cities could form a partnership and become an owner of a plant. The advantage to Duke was if a nonprofit entity, like the city of Rock Hill, owned a plant, they could finance the project at a nonprofit rate which was a lot cheaper.
There was no guarantee that Duke would continue to sell power to us, so we were at risk there, and there was no guarantee about the rate. When Duke approached the city about us becoming a partner with them to guarantee long-term power here, it wouldn’t guarantee the rates but we became part of the agency to set and control the rates. Nuclear power is controversial now. It was even more controversial then. I would say the city’s purchase of the nuclear power plant and the construction of Cherry Park were the two most controversial projects.
Where do you see the city going in the future from a development standpoint?
I think the city has laid a great foundation. I think the city will continue to make investments in the downtown. I think we are going to build on the successes. Our success has been in the electrical, water and sewer area.
I think for our sports tourism area, we are beginning to think of the next wave of improvements. We have a sport tourism commission. It is a new entity here and they are beginning to think of the next wave.
We are also thinking about public safety. We have had a lot of improvements in police and fire. As growth continues, we are thinking, where are the next improvements needed, especially in the fire area?
What was Rock Hill like when you started working for the city in 1970?
It was like many textile towns in North and South Carolina. It was what I would say a small blue-collar textile town. Obviously, I fell in love with the community, the people were as nice to me and open to me as I could ever expect.
How has it changed?
Rock Hill has evolved like most small southern textile cities. We have companies from all over the world that come to Rock Hill and I think the sports facilities now are attracting an international market. I think we attract people from all over the United States here.