ROCK HILL — The F.W. Woolworth building, a fixture on Rock Hills Main Street since 1916, is likely coming down for good.
The Rock Hill Economic Development Corp, owner of the building for the past 24 years, has said several times it is too costly to maintain the building and repair its leaky roof. The building has been vacant for about 20 years.
Jason Tuttle of Nova Capital had been working with the city to tear down the building and build 64 market-rate apartments in a project called 139 Main. That deal fell through recently when construction and financing costs increased, Tuttle said.
Greg Rutherford, chairman of RHEDC and president of York Technical College, said Wednesday the building is coming, likely within the next six months.
Stephen Turner, director of economic development for the city, said demolition is still in the preliminary stages and action wont be taken until after ChristmasVille, the annual downtown festival.
But based on his experience, Turner said, demolition appears to be the best option. The city has worked with multiple developers on the project, but no one has had the financial resources to renovate the 16,800-square-foot building.
Woolworth opened its first store on Rock Hill in 1916. A fire destroyed that building in 1934 and it was rebuilt in 1935. Woolworth was just one of several businesses with lunch counters that were the sites of a Feb. 12, 1960, sit-in by black students protesting segregation. The businesses closed their lunch counters rather than serve the students, most of which were from Friendship Junior College.
RHEDC had been working with Tuttle for the past five years. The demolition of the building and construction of apartments met one of the citys goals, bringing more residents to downtown.
RHEDC was contributing the building and up to $220,000 to the project. RHEDCs financial commitment decreased as more investors were found. The development corporations financial exposure was about $75,000 when the deal fell through.
All investors and RHEDC had gotten their money back, city officials have said. At a meeting of the Knowledge Park development group on Wednesday, Rutherford said the Tuttles, Jason and his father, Skip, lost about $50,000 on the project.
Jason Tuttle would not confirm how much he and his father have lost with the project.
Rutherford said the city has talked with four developers about the site, noting it could be developed into condos. The names of potential developers were not released.
Turner said RHEDC has just begun its demolition discussions.
The city had committed to pay a portion of the demolition in return for building a walkway from Main Street back to a White Street parking lot and the Old Town Market area.
City Manager David Vehaun said there have been no talks with the city about who would pay for the demolition.
Turner said the RHEDC board has not voted on demolition. The board has, however, frequently, discussed the idea and got city approval earlier this year for the 139 Main project.
Both Rutherford and Turner said it is not ideal to take down a building and create a gap in the Main Street facade. But it may be the only choice RHEDC has to get the property developed, Turner said.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066