Freshmen students who move onto Winthrop Universitys campus this week may not know it, but school and Rock Hill officials have been working for years to plan and build a college town for them.
It once took shape in the form of Thursdays College Night at Scandals nightclub on Cherry Road, near Winthrop.
Decades before that, some flocked to Daddys Money later named The Money a live music venue and bar that opened in the 1960s across from Winthrop.
Over the years, the southern stretch of one of Rock Hills busiest roads has been home to a revolving door of restaurants, anchored by some that have lasted.
Students can find an organic grocery store, sushi, subs and McDonalds if they leave campus and cross Cherry Road.
They can find fried chicken and beer on tap within a 10-minute walk of the university. Downtown Rock Hill is a 20-minute walk from campus.
The problem is that there seems to be a curtain around the college, keeping the more than 6,000 students from spending large sums of time and money at Cherry Road businesses, said Butch Bailey, owner and operator of Scandals nightclub before it closed in 2011.
Fast-moving traffic on the four-lane thoroughfare dividing Winthrop from some of Rock Hills sandwich shops and stores doesnt help coax pedestrians across, he said.
Officials and many business owners say they hope that a $1.5 million York County Pennies for Progress road work project slated for Cherry Road will address the pedestrian safety problem. The project is intended to create safer crossings for pedestrians and slow down traffic.
County officials are now negotiating contracts for the project.
Until the street feels safe enough for students to cross, Bailey said, the amount of Winthrop traffic businesses see will be limited.
A Rock Hill native, Bailey started working as a DJ at The Money just one week after he graduated from high school.
He opened Scandals in 1988 when he was 23 years old.
College town plans
Bailey attended meetings and tried to fit in to what officials said they wanted in a college town, he said, but he felt a strain between his bar and the city and Winthrops college town action plan.
Student business gradually dropped off, starting in the early 2000s, he said.
Before shutting down Scandals, Bailey said he noticed more students staying on campus, entertained by options in Winthrops DiGiorgio Campus Center, which opened in 2010.
Scandals had a dance floor, WU brew and live music sometimes.
But a reluctance to cross Cherry Road and the college crowds changing preferences contributed to the bars ultimate demise, Bailey says.
David Kiser, owner of the bar formerly known as The Money, says he also had problems drawing Winthrop students to his business.
His music club and bar, Firewater 110, is for sale after it closed last month.
Kisers reasons for closing the business were personal, not a reflection of hard financial times, he said.
Still, Firewater 110 had trouble tapping into the Winthrop student market, and Kiser said hes not sure most people in the community will realize the club is gone when classes start on Aug. 20.
I dont get the feeling that we were beloved, he said.
Kiser owned the club as The Money for two years and as Firewater for one year, battling the venues reputation of being unsafe after a deadly shooting in the parking lot nearly three years ago. Some band members were celebrating inside their recreational vehicle when two men broke in and tried to rob them. A gunfight ensued, and one of the robbers was killed and a band member was injured.
The other robber pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
We knew wed never be able to create our own destiny as long as we were living in (The Moneys ) shoes, he said.
A fan of the college town concept, Kiser said he had a different experience than Bailey did in working with city and Winthrop officials.
He read case studies provided by the university that shed light on what students want in a college town. College officials and representatives from Winthrop and the Rock Hill Police Department were helpful, he said.
The problem with the action plan for the area surrounding the campus is that theres just nothing that college kids are really interested in, Kiser said.
To cater to Winthrop students, businesses need an artistic slant, he said, and deep pockets to revitalize and improve South Cherry Road.
Much of the land and many of the buildings near the campus have different owners.
The area lacks a single vision, Kiser said. A master developer similar to the strategy being used for Rock Hills Knowledge Park may be needed to make the college town a reality. A development firm or individual could buy up all the surrounding properties, he said, and create a successful multi-use area.
Its going to take the right person, with the right vision and the right capital. You need a success before people are going to follow, he said.
With Winthrops strong arts culture, the immediate area around the university could become a place like NoDa, Charlottes arts district, Kiser said.
The colleges students already swarm to NoDa, he said, adding, I used to see it every weekend: College kids jump in their cars and drive to Charlotte.
Some cars head for Charlotte, but some students are headed home on the weekend, which is easy for them because the majority of Winthrops students are from South Carolina.
The weekend exodus has given the university the reputation of being a suitcase school, says Cale Medley, general manager of Grouchos, a restaurant across the street from Winthrop.
Medley, a 2011 Winthrop alumnus, said more than anything, he wants Winthrop to flourish.
Winthrops logo adorns Grouchos walls as a show of the business support for the school. A Winthrop logo also is displayed in the Sub Station II restaurant nearby.
Grouchos stay on Cherry Road across from the campus has been more successful than others, with the restaurant celebrating its fifth year as students return for classes.
Medley estimates that about 20 percent of the restaurants business comes from Winthrop students or employees.
Business could be better, he said, but Cherry Road the bloodline of Rock Hill feels unsafe for most pedestrians who cross the street.
Theres nothing about Cherry Road that says, Hey, slow down, people are trying to cross the street, he said.
The upcoming road project should help, Medley said, but college students still need more options on Cherry Road for the college town concept to find success.
Grouchos, Sub Station and Pub House are not enough to keep people entertained, he said.
The Pub House has enjoyed a packed house of Winthrop students since Jason Townsend started as general manager one year ago, he said.
The bar and restaurants proximity to the campus, Townsend said, is a key to its success.
Most of Townsends customers walk from the campus to Pub House but dont have to cross Cherry Road to get there.
While not aware of the city and Winthrops college town action plan, he says hed welcome improvements to the area, especially safety features on Cherry Road, which most people deem dangerous.
Improvements are forthcoming and will likely overlap with the citys efforts to develop Knowledge Park in the area between Winthrop and Rock Hills downtown, said Larry Williamson, a university representative on the Knowledge Park working group.
Williamson is married to Winthrop President Jayne Marie Comstock, who started in her job last month.
The working group makes recommendations to the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit entity. Comstock is an elected member of the corporations board.
One aspect of the Knowledge Park plan is to implement a street car that officials hope will entice students to the downtown area and to new development being courted for the site of the old Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., commonly called the Bleachery.
The street car is important, Williamson said, and will help everyone not just students commute between Cherry Road and downtown Rock Hill.
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068