After years of off-and-on negotiations, Rock Hill has reached a deal to buy the blighted Edison Mall from an owner unable to rescue it from decline.
Neighbors hope to see the boarded-up strip mall, long considered an eyesore on Saluda Street, regain its old prominence as a grocery store surrounded by smaller shops.
Their wish could get a lift today when City Council members vote on buying the property for $275,000. Unless a tenant can be found, the city would demolish the rundown mall building and recruit private investors to redevelop the 3.5-acre site, city documents show.
City officials and neighbors have grown tired of waiting for local real estate agent Mary Hyatt, who bought the shopping center with two partners in 1999 and talked about restoring it as a neighborhood draw.
With no progress to show, Hyatt has said she and one remaining co-owner face the threat of foreclosure from the bank.
Efforts to reach Hyatt for comment were unsuccessful Friday.
The mall sits vacant.
Gang graffiti covers much of a back wall. The asphalt parking lot is littered with potholes. A flea market operated until October 2009 but left when it became clear that Hyatt was close to selling the property.
The property also poses an environmental problem.
Soil and groundwater tests revealed the presence of cleaning solvents from dry cleaning businesses that operated until the 1980s, according to a memo from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
City officials would sign a voluntary clean-up contract with DHEC as part of the agreement to buy the property.
"If approved, the expectation is that the property would be a catalyst for the redevelopment of the Saluda Corridor and build upon the city's investment on Saluda Street," said new City Manager David Vehaun, whose first council meeting is tonight.
Long effort to revitalize
Neighbors want a grocery store to replace a Winn-Dixie that closed several years ago. Winn-Dixie and other stores left Saluda for newer retail centers in the 1980s and 1990s.
Around the same time, crime problems grew worse in nearby neighborhoods.
Saluda Street has been a top focus for urban renewal. In 2007, the city finished long-awaited streetscape upgrades aimed at turning the corridor into an attractive southern gateway.
Crews buried some overhead utility lines, put in landscaping and installed sidewalks.
But the $4.5 million infusion has shown few signs of delivering on its goals, with Edison Mall serving as the most visible example.
The city's economic development chief offered a grim assessment at a City Council planning retreat in early 2008.
"It's not happening," said Stephen Turner, director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. "We're going to have to step in."
Two years later, the purchase of Edison Mall could prove Turner's prediction was accurate.