The designation of a development team for Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park is a thrilling moment in the city’s longtime effort to create a vibrant economic center in its historic core.
The choice of the Sora-Phelps development firm still must be ratified by the city council. But city officials worked side by side with the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and other civic leaders in evaluating the developers, so the council is likely to rubber-stamp the deal on Monday.
The plan for Knowledge Park is a departure from past approaches to developing the property that spans from Winthrop University to downtown Rock Hill and encompasses the 23-acre site of the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. Remaining buildings from that plant, commonly known as the Bleachery, would be a central feature in Knowledge Park.
In the past, the blueprint for developing this corridor leaned heavily toward restaurants, apartment complexes, theaters and other entertainment venues. The new plan envisions an urban space geared more toward projects to attract new business ventures, especially high-tech firms, that would bring new jobs to the city.
Developers also would work closely with Winthrop officials on university projects, possibly including a new library and housing for students, faculty and staff, and an “active adult community.”
While not all of this is new, the emphasis on business development is a somewhat different tack for the city. And so is the use of a master developer to oversee the project.
Sora Development of Towson, Md., and Phelps Development of Greeley, Colo., comprise one of the biggest general contractors in the nation. As proposed, the city would not pay Sora for its services. Sora’s revenue would come from projects it builds and then leases.
While the city would spend money on infrastructure and other areas, primary funding would come from the contractors and private investors. Sora is likely to have access to investors from previous projects who could be approached about Knowledge Park.
Rock Hill has struggled for more than two decades to find a feasible way to redevelop what has been known as the Textile Corridor. During that time, the city has been stymied by a variety of obstacles.
But the concept of Knowledge Park seems to have jelled practically overnight. And, if projections are accurate, it will unfold quickly.
The involvement of a local leadership group – businessmen with a vested interest in downtown – was one key element in the evolution of this project. The next big step was to hire experts to supervise the development.
This project still is in the formative stages, but it nonetheless appears that an idea that has failed to come to life for years now is on the verge of becoming reality. There is good reason to hope that the moment of transformation of Rock Hill’s historic downtown might finally have arrived.