It wont take long for the nattering nabobs of negativism to rise up against the Knowledge Park plan for the Bleachery textile site and downtown Rock Hill.
Ironically, the nabobs will rely on technology to get their message out. Technology is at the core of the Knowledge Park plans, an economic development strategy to leverage technology to create jobs.
The idea is not new. Others have technology parks. Whats different here is Rock Hill has acres of urban land that is vacant, awaiting redevelopment land that has been the technology epicenter of this community for over a century.
The great-grandparents of todays naysayers told John Anderson he was a fool. Stick with what you know, John, they said. That horseless carriage is just a passing fancy. Keep making those buggies.
Andersons Rock Hill Buggy Plant completed a buggy every 25 minutes at its height of production. His Anderson Motor Co. made good, solid cars, but they were too pricey to compete with Henry Fords.
Charles L. Cobb, W.P. Goodman and J.B. Johnson got an earful for proposing a textile finishing plant for Rock Hill. You cant have a bleachery on a landlocked site, they heard. Takes a lot of water to run them plants; where are you going to get the water? The Catawba? Going to be too expensive, and I dont want my hard-earned money spent on that tomfoolery.
The three convinced the M. Lowenstein and Sons Co. of New York to build a bleachery at the former Anderson auto site. The city built a pipeline and a water plant to serve the textile plant, and in 1929, as America plunged into the Depression, the Rock Hill Printing and Finishing plant opened.
The non-stop clanging of mill machinery put food on the plates of residents. At the height of its production in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Bleachery, as it was commonly known, had more than three city blocks under its roof and employed almost 5,000 people. The citys population at the time was about 26,000. The Bleachery and other mills defined the character of Rock Hill.
One by one the citys mills closed, unable to adapt to changes in the industry. The Bleachery held out longer than most. It closed in 1998.
Since then, plans to renovate the Bleachery have been greeted with much anticipation. Pretty pictures were shown. People swooned over the projected number of jobs that would come, the dollars that would flow into Rock Hills economy.
The Bleachery would become a place to work, live and play, our own little Disneyworld. Our Disneyworld would not have a futuristic monorail. No, we would have a trolley, linking Winthrop to downtown, just like the one that once ran on Oakland Avenue. A mule pulled that trolley.
Anticipation turned to disappointment when plans languished for any number of reasons.
Will the Knowledge Park meet that same fate?
Backers of the park say the plan has three critical factors others plans lacked: the city now owns the land; there is a clear vision thats focused on jobs; and the plan has the support of area business leaders.
An impressive group of business leaders has assembled to promote the plan. Several, such as Lee Gardner of Family Trust Federal Credit Union, remember the Bleachery at its heyday.
Others, such as Jason Broadwater, are big dreamers, believers in a new urban enterprise that will keep Rock Hill on the cusp of cutting-edge technologies. What better place for those efforts than the Bleachery, they say.
The nabobs, indeed most of us, are tired of the pretty pictures. We want to see more solid signs of change. Improvements to White Street are a much needed start.
So, what happens next?
Most importantly, which of the business leaders who have assembled to promote the Knowledge Park will step up and become its champion. Who will be the next Charles Cobb, W.P. Goodman and J.B. Johnson? Who will silence the nattering nabobs of negativism?
Don Worthington 803-329-4066 firstname.lastname@example.org