After 25 years of trying to find the right plan to redevelop the F.W. Woolworth building on Rock Hill’s Main Street, the owners are tearing it down.
The former five-and-dime store is owned by the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp.
RHEDC officials have worked with several developers for the site, but all efforts have failed.
Earlier this week, RHEDC approved hiring MJD Contracting of Columbia to demolish the building for $289,832. The price could be more as there are several options the city is considering adding to the bid, said Stephen Turner, the city’s economic development director.
At the same meeting, RHEDC announced one aspect of the redeveloped property – hiring an artist to create a “civil rights” walkway from Main Street to the Old Town Market.
The Woolworth and the McCrory’s lunch counters were sites of civil rights protests in the 1960s. It was the McCrory’s lunch counter where students from Friendship Junior College were denied service and arrested. The students and their organizer – the Friendship Nine – served their time in jail rather than pay their bail.
The city also is working with a developer to build a multi-story residential complex at the Woolworth site. No names were released, but Turner said the developer has “serious interests” and an announcement could be made by the end of the year.
The project is similar to one Jason Tuttle of Nova Capital had proposed. Tuttle’s 139 Main project called for the city to tear down the building and he would build 64 market-rate apartments. That deal fell through when construction and financing costs increased, Tuttle told RHEDC when he canceled the project.
Woolworth was once one of downtown’s shopping fixtures, opening its first store in Rock Hill in 1916. A fire destroyed that building in 1934 and it was rebuilt in 1935.
On Feb. 12, 1960, its lunch counter was the site of a sit-in by black students protesting segregation. Woolworth closed its lunch counters rather than serve the students.
RHEDC has owned the property since 1989, except for a brief period when it was sold to a developer. The building was returned to RHEDC when the project failed. Over time the building’s roof has deteriorated and RHEDC officials decided it was more cost efficient to tear down the building and start with new construction.
“If all we do is take the building down, I won’t feel good about it,” Turner said. The goal has always been to have a project that will bring more people downtown.
Demolition, Turner said, “is an interim, necessary step.”
Turner said demolition should take place this fall, with the operation lasting about 30 days.
RHEDC wanted a contractor with demolition experience in a downtown environment. The Woolworth building abuts two other buildings.
MJD Contracting has done similar downtown work in Florence and Columbia. The Woolworth building also has asbestos, which will require removal.
After demolition, work on the civil rights walkway is not expected to start until the site is redeveloped, Turner said.
Finalists for the project are all from Charlotte: Thomas Thoune and a team of Laurel Holtzapple, Juan Logan and Lauren Doran.
Thoune’s projects include public art for the Charlotte transit system and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Logan’s portfolio includes work at the North Carolina Freedom Monument Park in Raleigh, N.C.
The finalists will be invited to Rock Hill to meet with the public. No dates have been announced. In addition to their vision for the civil rights walkway, finalists will present a plan for community involvement in the process and a one-week, artist-in-residence program at local schools.
Having local input is a key part of the project, Turner said.
The estimated cost for hiring an artist is $18,000 which is being privately funded, according to RHEDC officials. The cost does not include implementation and installation of the accepted design. The city’s estimate for the basic walkway is about $400,000.
Possible areas available to the selected artist to work with include the walkway’s surface and walls, and possibly space for freestanding art.
This is the second downtown project where the RHEDC has assisted with public art projects. When completed Fountain Park at East Main Street and Elizabeth Lane will have a bike rack and artistic tiles designed by Rock Hill students.