Business Editor

Developers to present Knowledge Park plan

March 2, 2014 

Sora Development plans to turn what’s left of the Rock Hill Finishing & Printing plant into the center of “Knowledge Park,” the city’s high-tech economic vision.

DON WORTHINGTON — dworthington@heraldonline.com

When Timothy Elliott of Sora Development made his Rock Hill debut three months ago, he compared his job of redeveloping the city’s textile corridor into a vibrant, high-tech, jobs-producing center city to that of a symphony conductor.

It was his job to get all the players to play together. “If that’s done, it all sounds great,” he said.

Monday he hands out the sheet music. Sora Development is presenting its master development plan to the Rock Hill City Council. The noon meeting is in the former courtroom, now sometime music venue, at the Gettys Art Center.

The plan will have some familiar themes. The Knowledge Park concept is, in part, based on the textile corridor plan of old – a plan to revitalize the former Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. site, the Bleachery, and to connect Winthrop University to downtown Rock Hill.

Details of the master plan won’t be released until today, but Elliott offered a series of insights in staccato fashion last week.

As proposed, the 23-acre Bleachery site could have up to 19 buildings, spread out over eight phases of construction. The signature smokestacks will remain, he said.

The master plan will have projections for tax revenue, market demand and environmental cleanup. The good news is the city has done most of the environmental cleanup and what’s additionally needed should be “not extensive or expensive,” Elliott said.

There will also be a section on topography. Most people, he said, think that the Bleachery is a “flat, pancake site. It’s not,” Elliott said.

Don’t be surprised if a portion of Elliott’s symphony has a percussive feel, like the sound of massive machinery turning out finished product yards.

The massive Lowenstein building did that for years as part of Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. It’s now vacant and dark, and its cavernous floors hide reminders that the plant once was Rock Hill’s economic epicenter, employing one out of every four or five residents.

The Lowenstein building – named after the M. Lowenstein and Sons Co. of New York, which built the Bleachery – has been frequently named as the best place to start Knowledge Park work. It could easily hold as many an 800 workers, according to city estimates.

Asked if the Lowenstein building would be first, Elliott said, “probably.”

Greg Rutherford, chairman of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and president of York Technical College, acknowledged the Lowenstein building would be a good place to start. Success there would stimulate interest in other projects, he said. “Other investors need to see we are serious,” he said.

Rutherford’s words should be the cornerstone of the project. If the Knowledge Park is to succeed, it will require not only Sora’s investment but also those of other investors, locally, regionally and nationally.

Equally important is Rutherford’s observation that this is just the beginning. “The plan is a foundation. It’s not the final build-out.”

Monday’s master plan could also include a second initial project, possibly one connected to Winthrop.

Hopefully, the master plan fulfills the wishes of Lee Gardner, CEO and president of Family Trust Federal Credit Union. The credit union will build its new headquarters catty-corner to the Lowenstein building once the city finishes installing new water and sewer lines on White Street.

Gardner, a member of the Knowledge Park leadership group of local businessmen, said the master plan needed to be done “with a sense of urgency, urgency with a disciplined approach.”

There’s also an understandable need for a healthy dose of skepticism. We have seen master plans before with lots of pretty pictures – and that’s all we got, pretty pictures.

But unlike other times, now there is a sense of momentum and the anticipation of accomplishment.

“It’s time to be excited,” said Gary Williams, owner of Williams and Fudge. His company is located in a former cotton factory, one of the first examples of adapting technology to a mill environment.

“It’s time to be excited. We’ve been talking about this for years. Just make it happen,” he said.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 • dworthington@heraldonline.com

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