A village of residences, shops, offices and a public park could soon take shape in downtown Rock Hill as the product of lengthy closed-door talks between the city and Comporium Communications.
The two sides announced the outline Tuesday for what they call "Downtown East" - a multi-block development with more than $20 million in public and private investment for Rock Hill's historic district.
The centerpiece would be a public park built around a major water feature on the little-used municipal parking lot at East Main Street and Elizabeth Lane.
Longer-term plans call for a 100-room hotel and civic center on land owned by Comporium and the city. Tuesday's announcement came after more than a year of private negotiations between the two parties.
"It's important that you get started," Mayor Doug Echols told a crowd of downtown boosters. "These kinds of concepts take a long time to unfold, but you have to start with vision."
Public, private spending
City Council members have not yet taken a public vote or held any public discussion on an agreement with Comporium. The proposal is on the council's Nov. 8 agenda.
Money for public upgrades - in excess of $2 million - would come from a special downtown tax district and hospitality tax revenues, according to Echols and city documents. Comporium would help pay for a tiered fountain with water shooting inward from the edges.
The city plans to hire a land design firm to create a plan for the park, situated across from First Presbyterian Church.
The Barnes family that runs Comporium did not attend the announcement. Members of the family, who rarely give media interviews, were tied up in other meetings, a spokesman said.
Now in its fourth generation of running the company, the Barnes family is quietly involved in a number of civic initiatives. The family has talked about improving the section of downtown surrounding its corporate campus.
Developers and retailers are already showing interest, Comporium vice president Glenn McFadden said. A restaurant with outdoor seating is envisioned in a corner spot overlooking the park.
As a first step, Comporium plans to demolish the former King Funeral Home and Hiers-Clarkson office building by June.
A jobs generator?
Several hurdles and questions remain. City officials must figure out a way to synchronize street improvements with enough private investment to replenish the tax base.
Tax revenues generated by the private development would go toward repaying public costs.
Cost estimates are still unknown for a community performance center, which Echols said would come "at some point in the future." An old bank building now serves as temporary theater space.
The new buildings would add to a downtown district that already boasts 100,000 square feet of vacant office space, according to real estate estimates.
With Rock Hill's unemployment rate above 20 percent, leaders described the project as a jobs generator that would spark commerce and bring long-awaited residences to downtown.
Echols called it a book-end to the renovated Cotton Factory and future plans in the Textile Corridor on the west end of downtown.
"Just like (the Cotton Factory), it took getting the right partner and a little patience to see it all come together," he said.
Comporium will hire a developer to handle the retail shops, office space and condominium complex at East Main Street and Elizabeth Lane.
"You can either ride the current economic situation out, or make something happen," McFadden said. "We decided to make something happen."
Elements of the plan
New mixed-use building with 44 residences and 16,000 square feet of commercial space. Cost: $10.2 million to $13.5 million in private money.
Hotel with 100 rooms, restaurant and meeting space. Cost: $7.3 million in private money.
Retail/office building with 16,200 feet of space. Cost: $1.1 million in private money.
Public park and fountain. Cost: $2 million to $3 million in public and private money.
Civic center with 500-seat main theater. Cost: Unknown.
Streetscaping, public parking and infrastructure upgrades. Cost: $1 million in public money.