Turning the former textile mill area between downtown Rock Hill and Winthrop University into a “Knowledge Park” will take hundreds of millions of dollars, says an executive with Sora Development, the firm that’s been chosen to do the work and says it’s ready to put up the cash.
The Rock Hill City Council on Monday night signed off on tapping Sora, a Maryland-based company, and Phelps Development of Greeley, Colo., as the lead developers for the city’s latest economic development strategy.
The two companies have formed Sora-Phelps Rock Hill, LLC, and plan to occupy office space in Rock Hill soon.
Rock Hill’s not-for-profit economic development board voted to recommend Sora-Phelps last week after vetting five firms that expressed interest in becoming Knowledge Park’s master developer.
Tim Elliott, director of design for Sora, said on Monday that he sees his company, in partnership with Phelps, possibly doubling the investment Sora recently made in a similar project in Glassboro, N.J.
In Glassboro, Sora is nearly halfway finished with the $300 million undertaking, poised to transform the borough’s downtown retail area which is linked to Rowan University, a public school with about twice as many students as are enrolled at Winthrop.
But, Elliott said, when the project began, Rowan’s student size was closer to Winthrop’s.
Substantial investment in the area between Glassboro’s downtown and the campus probably contributed to Rowan’s growth, he said.
Sora’s Glassboro experience is one reason city officials say the development firm was the top choice for Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park.
Andy Shene, head of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp., told the council that, when finished, Knowledge Park will be the “dynamic center of Rock Hill’s 21st century economy.”
The number one reason for pursuing the project, he said, is because it will attract jobs and businesses.
A major part of the Knowledge Park concept is making use of the land where the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. plant – commonly called the Bleachery – once operated.
The city of Rock Hill owns the 23-acre Bleachery site, which is a part of more than 100 acres and 70,000 square feet of buildings within Knowledge Park’s boundaries.
Winthrop – with the land it already owns and its need to expand – is one stakeholder in the Knowledge Park concept.
Early proposals for the targeted redevelopment area include a new Winthrop library, additional student housing and an “active adult community” for seniors who want to establish or re-kindle ties to the university.
Representatives from Sora and the city say that it will take years to build all of Knowledge Park.
But, action could start as early as the spring of 2014, officials said Monday.
Elliott is already meeting with local developers to see what part they may play in the redevelopment effort, he said.
Starting in late 2013, Sora will begin making bi-monthly presentations to the City Council on its progress.
City officials tout the significance of private investment in Knowledge Park, with Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols saying, “City government can’t do everything, and we shouldn’t do everything.”
In preparation for a developer such as Sora to take on the concept and use its own cash, the city has spent millions of dollars on the former textile area and infrastructure inside Knowledge Park.
The investment has been necessary and will be worth it once projects start to “go vertical,” Echols said.
A private partner for Knowledge Park is crucial for the development’s momentum, he said.
“They’re not sitting around just planning for planning’s sake,” Echols said. “They’re talking about getting stuff done because that’s where they make their money.”
Anna Douglas • 803-329-4068