Who will oversee development of Rock Hills Knowledge Park at the former Bleachery site will likely be announced this week.
The Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and business leaders of the Knowledge Park group are expected to make a recommendation Tuesday. The Rock Hill City Council is expected to consider their pick on Sept. 9.
Vying to develop the Knowledge Park are Fairmont Properties and Forest City Real Estate Services, both of Cleveland; a partnership between Sora Development of Towson, Md., and Phelps Development of Greeley, Colo.; and a partnership between Warren Norman Co. of Rock Hill and Collett of Charlotte.
The selected firm will guide development of the Knowledge Park, the citys economic strategy for property between Winthrop University and downtown. The major piece of land is the former Rock Hill Printing and Finishing plant, commonly called the Bleachery.
The city hopes to bring technology businesses to the site, creating thousands of jobs. Retail and residential uses are also anticipated. The plan also assumes Winthrop would expand toward downtown.
City officials expect the master developer will invest millions of private dollars into the project.
Before that happens, the city will have invested more than $60 million into projects between Winthrop University and downtown during the next two to four years. Thats in addition to the $900,000 the city spent to buy the Bleachery site and $5 million to demolish aging buildings and a water tower.
In comparison, the city annually spends about $9 million on utility and road projects, according to the citys Office of Management and Budget.
This all sets the stage for new private investment, said Stephen Turner, the citys director of economic development.
Its an investment more than expense, Lee Gardner, CEO and president of Family Trust Federal Credit Union, said of the citys efforts. The credit union has plans for a new $7 million headquarters on White Street across from the Bleachery site. . Gardner said those plans are contingent on the city completing the projects on White Street it has committed to.
Many of the improvements arent as noticeable as others because they involve improving utilities. These improvements include new water and sewer lines and underground power lines. The areas existing lines are among the citys oldest. Some properties are without any city utility service. Much of the area was developed before stormwater controls were mandated.
Road projects in the Knowledge Park and adjacent neighborhoods include improving some intersections and widening roads.
The most expensive and most visible items are electric, water and rail related. They are:
• A new $4.3 million water tank.
• A $3.4 million parking deck next to the Fountain Park Place office building near Comporium.
• A $1.4 million fountain at Fountain Park. Donated funds are paying for the fountain. The city investment in the park is about $11.8 million.
• A new $2.5 million electric substation to increase power reliability in the Knowledge Park.
• $5.9 million in improvements to the Norfolk Southern railroad tracks to eliminate downtown streets being blocked by stationary rail cars. A federal grant and Pennies for Progress money is paying for most of the project. Currently about $900,000 of the project is unfunded.
• A 1.5-mile trolley between the university and downtown. Development of the Knowledge Park is anticipated to fund the trolley, estimated to cost $20 million. The trolley estimate is not included in the $60 million set aside by the city.
One-half of the funding for the projects is coming from three sources:
• The city is borrowing about $11 million, which will be paid off by expected increases in property tax revenue in the Knowledge Park.
• About $10 million is coming from Pennies for Progress, York Countys road construction program. Most of the improvements to White Street are being paid for with Pennies for Progress money. The city pitched these improvements to the Pennies board as an economic development project.
• About $7.8 million is coming from the citys Utilities Department. The department is borrowing $4.5 million and $3.2 million is coming from the annual operating budget.
City Manager David Vehaun said many of the projects have been in the works for several years. He said it is fortunate they are coming together at the same time. Examples of projects that have been in the works for years include the new electric substation, the railroad improvements and the water tower. The infrastructure utilities and road and rail improvements at the Bleachery and around it will make it easier for the master developer.
Its the right place at the right time, he said. We will knock out a lot of stuff in the next two years.
The utilities will specifically make it easer to redevelop the Lowenstein Building, he said. The building, which once housed the Bleacherys machine shop and offices, is seen as one of the likely early redevelopment projects.
Gary Williams, owner of the collection agency Williams & Fudge, formed Lowenstein Development of Rock Hill to compete for that project. The Lowenstein group was one of a number of developers who submitted individual projects to the city. These master developer may opt to work with one of these developers on specific projects. Williams said the building would be a great place to branch out.
Currently Williams & Fudge employs about 400 workers and has no room to grow at the Cotton Factory which is in area the city is calling Knowledge Park , Williams said.
When the Bleachery was developed in the 1930s it had its own water and sewer system. The Lowenstein Building is not hooked into the city water or sewer system and there is no stormwater system on the 23-acre site.
Construction of a electric substation for reliable power to the area is essential in attracting technology companies, said city officials and business leaders,.
Increased electric reliability would also benefit existing businesses.
Williams said that even a six-minute loss of power results in a 3.5-hour loss of productivity at his collection agency. It takes that long to reset the computers and get everything running, he said. I cant afford that, Williams said. He said outages has been less frequent in recent years.