March 4, 2014

“Class A” office space envisioned in remake of Lowenstein building at Knowledge Park

By the summer of 2015, the massive Lowenstein building on White Street could be filled with hundreds of workers in an open environment designed to fuel creativity, say those planning to redevelop Rock Hill’s Bleachery site.

By the summer of 2015, the massive Lowenstein building on White Street could be filled with hundreds of workers in an open environment designed to fuel creativity, say those planning to redevelop Rock Hill’s Bleachery site.

The Lowenstein building is the first piece of Knowledge Park, an economic development plan to create a high-tech job corridor, linking Winthrop University to the city’s downtown.

Sora-Phelps, the master developer for Knowledge Park, unveiled its vision for the 23-acre Bleachery site Monday, proposing 19 buildings with 1.3 million square feet of retail, restaurant, office and residential space. The site, once home to the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., could employ as many as 1,000 people, most in high-paying, technology-related jobs. Sora-Phelps and other investors are expected to invest nearly $200 million in Knowledge Park.

To transform the Lowenstein building, constructed in 1954 with 10-inch concrete floors and 18-foot ceilings, and an adjacent one-story structure constructed in 1939, Sora-Phelps is partnering with two local businessmen, Skip Tuttle and Gary Williams.

Tuttle is a developer and Williams is the owner of Williams & Fudge, a collection agency.

The estimate for renovations is about $50 million which does not include buying the buildings from the city, Tuttle said. The city has not set a price for the buildings, but a factor will be recouping its $4.5 million investment in the Bleachery, said Stephen Turner, Rock Hill’s economic development director.

The five-story Lowenstein building is one of last remaining structures from the textile plant which operated from 1929 to 1998. At the height of its operations, the Bleachery had 30 buildings with 2.5 million square feet under roof and employed one of every four or five workers in Rock Hill. The plant bleached, dyed, printed and finished cloth.

Williams was drawn to the Lowenstein building because of its scale and opportunity. He started looking at its potential shortly after he and other local businessmen formed the Knowledge Park Leadership Group in the fall of 2012. The advocacy of the business group helped convince the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and the City Council to seek proposals for developing the Knowledge Park.

“Government was going too slow,” Williams said. “This building was screaming to be developed.”

So Williams contacted Tuttle. Williams resigned from the leadership group and they submitted a proposal to renovate the Lowenstein building.

The city ultimately selected a partnership between Sora Development, which is known for blending urban and university uses into large-scale developments, and Phelps Construction to be the Bleachery’s master developer.

Soon after their selection, Williams and Tuttle talked with Sora and the result, Tuttle said, “was a good fit.”

Sora Development has a track record for redeveloping urban spaces, “Gary and I bring some momentum in finding potential users,” Tuttle said.

Intially, Tuttle and Williams wanted to renovate just the Lowenstein building. But closer examination showed that the project needed to include the adjacent building – or build an expensive “fire wall” between the two buildings. They agreed to take on both projects. The projected use for the building constructed in 1939 is a sports or multipurpose center combined with underground parking – a use the city called for in a 2003 study of the property.

A primary consideration in Tuttle’s and Williams’ plan is the buildings’ eligibility for four tax credits: federal and state historic tax credits, state abandoned building tax credits, state textile mill rehabilitation credits and federal new market tax credits for low-income communities.

“Without the tax credits, it’s impossible,” Williams said.

Upgrading the buildings’ utilities and installing more energy efficient windows will be a challenge to meet the criteria for the historic tax credits, Tuttle said.

But he said the knowledge Williams gained when he renovated the nearby Cotton Factory into offices for his company, Williams & Fudge, should be helpful in gaining the historic tax credits.

Tuttle said it was premature to talk about specific tenants before the city transfers ownership of the building. But he and Williams both said a “high density” use such as a call center was a possibility. Williams also said Williams & Fudge has outgrown its Cotton Factory location and is looking for more office space. Last week, they talked with a software developer, Tuttle said.

Turner said the city’s goal is to have top-of-the line “Class A” office space “at a low cost, way below market rates.” He said the tax credits will help keep the leasing rates low.

Tuttle said the partnership will renovate and then lease the facility. The partnership will continue to own the buildings after renovations, he said.

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