Rock Hill considers help for Cherry Road businesses

adouglas@heraldonline.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Some Rock Hill City Council members signaled on Thursday that they’re prepared to put money toward an incentive program that would target businesses on Cherry Road.

The council could soon choose to help business owners who invest in their property by contributing money toward upgrading the look of their land.

Under a proposed landscape incentive program, Rock Hill could chose to pull some money from its hospitality tax or economic development accounts to pay for helping businesses.

In the past, the city has used some economic development money to subsidize downtown business owners’ rent, to help downtown building owners renovate their properties and to provide growth incentives for companies looking to expand.

Additionally, Rock Hill has spent more than $11 million in the North Cherry Road area to bury power lines and add streetscaping – a move city officials say has encouraged commercial growth.

While the council hasn’t voted on how much the city should spend on the landscape incentive program, one idea is to match Cherry Road property owners’ investments by up to $2,000.

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols spoke in support of the program on Thursday.

“It’s the kind of thing that could make a huge difference over time,” he said.

Once the retail hub of Rock Hill, Cherry Road has been plagued in recent years by aging structures, vacant buildings, large paved lots and a perceived crime problem, officials say.

Some community leaders lament that the major thoroughfare – connecting many Interstate 77 travelers to the rest of Rock Hill – has become a magnet for title loan and check-cashing stores and an eyesore for commuters.

At times, city officials have found it difficult to foster a continuous look along the busy road because many property owners follow Rock Hill’s codes and rules while their neighbors follow separate regulations mandated by York County.

Some investors have told city leaders that after studying the demographics within 5 miles of Cherry Road commercial spots, they’re disappointed in the expected spending power of residents.

Still, Cherry Road has remained attractive to developers and investors because of its high traffic count, with some sections of the street carrying up to 30,000 vehicles daily.

Councilman Jim Reno noted Thursday that progress at Riverwalk – a mixed-use development near Interstate 77 and Cherry Road – should boost spending power in the area.

Many property owners have told city staff members that they are willing to invest in beautification of their buildings or land but worry their commercial neighbors won’t follow suit, said Bill Meyer, Rock Hill’s planning director.

So, the city stepping in to help reduce the cost makes sense, said Councilwoman Kathy Pender.

Downtown business incentives have been used to help revive the district as retail options have moved to other parts of Rock Hill such as Dave Lyle Boulevard, city officials have said.

Decades ago, Cherry Road was one of those areas that benefited as business shifted from Main Street to strip malls and shopping centers, Pender said.

Now that the city’s efforts have proven fruitful in drawing businesses back to the downtown area, she said, it makes sense that the cycle continue and that Rock Hill focus on helping Cherry Road thrive again.

Rock Hill staff members have spent close to a year studying a 5-mile stretch of Cherry Road in hopes of giving City Council members a full picture of challenges and opportunities.

It’s the first time officials have used a “personal planning process” to map the area’s needs, Meyer said.

Similar survey projects will follow for Anderson and Albright roads.

Meyer’s staff has found that many Cherry Road property owners live or work in Charlotte, he said.

Simply making those people more aware of existing business-friendly initiatives in Rock Hill could encourage improvements on Cherry Road, Meyer said.

Branding, and then marketing, specific sections of Cherry Road, Echols said, could play an important role in the corridor’s revitalization.

The city has already dubbed one part of the street as a part of Rock Hill’s “College Town,” and another section – near Cherry Park and the Rock Hill Tennis Center – has official sports destination markings.

The city is “on the right track” in finding ways to help existing businesses spruce up their properties, Echols said.

Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo agreed, saying the proposed landscape incentive program should help some businesses that have been open for years but still “may be barely making payroll every week,” let alone considering an investment in beautification.

The city’s planning department could use some of its money to pilot the program, officials said Thursday.

Next year, the council could vote to include the program in Rock Hill’s budget.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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