Rock Hill plans to spend $4M on Knowledge Park water tank with special lighting features

adouglas@heraldonline.comApril 10, 2014 

A model of the proposed Rock Hill water tower adjacent to the Laurelwood Cemetery. The water tank would serve as an icon for the nearby Knowledge Park.

DON WORTHINGTON — dworthington@heraldonline.com

Rock Hill leaders are planning special features for a new $4 million water tank near downtown that will include colored LED lights and a brick perimeter fence with seating areas and vehicle parking nearby.

“This will be the kind of thing people will show their friends and neighbors when they come to Rock Hill,” said City Manager David Vehaun during a city council workshop Thursday.

The new water tank will be located close to an existing tank near the corner of West Main and Laurel streets, near downtown Rock Hill. After new construction is finished, the existing tank will be demolished and two historic homes on Main Street near Laurelwood Cemetery will have to be moved or torn down.

City leaders have given the homeowners until May 29 to move the houses. More than $250,000 has been spent on buying the homes and land to make way for the water tank.

Most of the money for the new 750,000-gallon water tank will come from a loan from a South Carolina state program designed specifically for cities to complete major utility improvements. About $278,000 – the money needed for the special lights – will come from Rock Hill’s local hospitality tax account.

The city charges a 2 percent food and beverage tax – called a hospitality tax – at Rock Hill businesses. The money can be used for various projects such as building parks and facilities that attract tourism.

Some unique features on Rock Hill’s new water tank can be paid for with the hospitality tax because it’s expected that visitors will stop by to see it, Vehaun said.

Up to 35 parking spaces will be available around the base of the water tank. Parking will accommodate cemetery visitors and people going to the nonprofit Pilgrims’ Inn complex across Laurel Street.

The water tank and its parking will serve anticipated development on White Street and surrounds under the city’s vision for “Knowledge Park.” Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park plan seeks to redevelop land and repurpose some buildings in the city’s former textile area.

The old Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. land – commonly called the Bleachery – is the centerpiece and largest single piece of property in Knowledge Park. The vacant Bleachery land and many other properties between downtown and Winthrop University will attract employers who will bring high-tech jobs and accompanying retail, restaurant and entertainment options, city officials say.

Because the new water tank will be near one entrance to Knowledge Park, Vehaun said that the structure should be “iconic,” unlike “most water tanks (which) are fairly inelegant things.”

The Knowledge Park tank will be visible from Interstate 77 and many areas of Rock Hill, officials say.

Water tank design talks have been ongoing since last summer when Rock Hill employees met with Winthrop faculty and other design professionals to brainstorm about the tank.

After vetting several styles of water tanks and towers and many decorative options, Vehaun said he and others settled on using special lighting because of cost savings and other factors, such as the philosophical meaning behind light.

In his presentation to council Thursday, Vehaun pointed out that “light is symbolic in almost all religions” and serves as “a symbol of hope.”

With a lifespan of up to 100 years, a focus on making the water tank aesthetically pleasing as well as safe has been important to city leaders, Vehaun said.

The LED lights will be attached to the “stem” of the water tank and covered by durable glass. Compared to painting a water tank – which can cost up to $1 million – the lights are a more cost-effective decoration.

It’s possible the city could choose to change the color of the lights around holidays or special occasions. For example, the color green could be used for St. Patrick’s Day or red, white and blue could be used for the Fourth of July.

The lights will be prominent but not distracting to drivers or bothersome to neighbors, Vehaun said after Councilman John Black voiced concern about the water tower “glowing” at night and being a problem.

Black and other council members spoke in support of the proposed water tank plan, with Councilwoman Ann Williamson saying “It looks great to me.”

With the rarity of building new water tanks, it makes sense that Rock Hill make the Knowledge Park tank special, said Mayor Doug Echols. He asked about the annual electrical expense of using LED lights.

Specific annual costs weren’t shared on Thursday but Vehaun said the cost of using LED bulbs is cheaper than using other lights. And, using lights instead of painting the stem of the water tank will reduce periodic painting costs to about $500,000 – half the cost of painting other city-owned water tanks.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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