Winthrop, Knowledge Park leaders to meet Thursday

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 5, 2014 

ROGER BALL 704-904-7584

For the first time since a new president took over at Winthrop University last year, the college’s top leaders will meet with Rock Hill officials on Thursday to hear from a private developer in charge of transforming the city’s former textile area into a business park.

Tim Elliott, director of design for Sora Development, is expected to present his ideas and a master plan for Knowledge Park, an economic development strategy conceived a few years ago by Rock Hill’s business community and city leaders. Before his formal presentation to the Knowledge Park leadership group at 11 a.m., Elliott will speak with Winthrop’s representatives, including President Jayne Marie Comstock.

Sora, a Maryland real estate development firm, is partnering with Hensel Phelps, a major general contractor based in Colorado, to guide the redevelopment of the former textile site.

The Executive Committee of Winthrop’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday discussed the university’s role in the upcoming development, which includes nearly 100 acres between Rock Hill’s downtown and the college campus. Knowledge Park plans call for redeveloping several properties, with a focus on the site of the old Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. – commonly called the Bleachery.

The university’s most substantial contribution to the Knowledge Park effort is that “we deliver 7,500 people,” including students and college employees, said Winthrop trustee Bob Thompson.

He and other trustees mentioned that the recently signed “memorandum of understanding” between Winthrop and other Knowledge Park stakeholders does not commit the university to spending money on the redevelopment.

The agreement does mention about 30 acres Winthrop owns near Cherry Road and Constitution Boulevard, currently used for parking and an operations center. The property also includes some vacant land.

Winthrop has an interest in Knowledge Park plans because the redevelopment could include some university-related facilities, such as student housing and an active-adult residential community. Other projects, such as a streetcar to transport people from the campus to downtown and additional retail and restaurant options, could benefit Winthrop and its goal of boosting student enrollment.

Students, their families, employees and campus visitors also represent potential customers for businesses, such as a hotel, that might locate in Knowledge Park, trustees said on Wednesday.

“Heads on beds,” which refers to visitors staying in Rock Hill hotels, is something “we’re already doing,” said trustees Chairwoman Kathy Bigham. While Winthrop isn’t likely to contractually agree to book a certain number of hotel rooms for a Knowledge Park hotel, she said, the multiple conferences and athletic events held on campus every year already have a positive impact on the industry.

Comstock agreed, saying Winthrop has “a huge impact on the hospitality industry” in Rock Hill.

Winthrop and Rock Hill leaders have said that both the city and the campus stand to benefit from Knowledge Park.

Elliott has said that the former textile corridor’s transformation likely will begin with the old Lowenstein building on White Street, which was built in 1929. Under Sora-Phelps’ vision, the property could be renovated for office, civic or retail use.

Sora-Phelps is expected to share its plans with the Rock Hill City Council on Feb. 13.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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