The proposed park and downtown office building announced Jan. 22 are likely to be key elements in a grand plan to transform the city’s historic core and move forward with the so-called “Knowledge Park” concept.
In an ambitious public-private sector alliance, the city of Rock Hill and Comporium will join to build a tree-lined park with a fountain and amphitheater, and a 48,000-square-foot office building at the corner of East Main Street and Elizabeth Lane. Both projects are expected to start in April or May and take between a year and 18 months to complete.
Mayor Doug Echols notes that each project is dependent on the others’ success. The park will be built on the site of a parking lot owned by Comporium, which the company is donating to the city. The building will be built by Comporium, but the city will build a three-story, 210-space parking deck that will be attached to the building, with a portion of the spaces reserved for the company’s use.
This Downtown East project should complement plans to raze the old Woolworth building on Main Street and use the site for a multi-purpose building that will include condos, offices and retail space.
It is easy to envision how this combination of new residential and commercial space along with an attractive park could change the character of downtown Rock Hill. All the elements in this plan would have the effect of attracting people.
The new office building would bring professional workers and their clients downtown. Residential space would entice more people to live downtown, which is crucial to the mix of a successful and thriving city core.
And the park would draw people who want to exercise, walk their dogs, take in a concert or just sit in shade and watch water cascade in the fountain. The city has a number of gathering places – Cherry Park, Glencairn Garden, Manchester Meadows – but none in central downtown that would serve as the equivalent of a town square.
Broadening the circle, this plan furthers the Knowledge Park concept in which Winthrop University will play a key role. Winthrop is the anchor at one end while Downtown East forms the anchor at the other end.
In between, the blueprint calls for development of the former site of the Bleachery, new bike paths leading from Winthrop to downtown and a trolley car for transportation. With other developments, such as restaurants on Caldwell Street and the renovated site for the downtown farmer’s market, a lot is happening at once.
Progress in redeveloping the city’s historic core has been steady but incremental. Efforts to develop the Bleachery site have been especially frustrating over the past decade.
But recent activity indicates the potential for a cascade of development that would bring enormous changes virtually overnight. It could be the tipping point that has been so long in coming.
If so, it won’t be by accident. It will be the result of hard work, planning and imaginative thinking on the part of city officials and business and community leaders dedicated to the vision of a thriving central city core.