Don Worthington

April 13, 2014

High-tech Knowledge Park needs high-tech marketing

Rock Hill leaders discuss how to define what the Knowledge Park is and isn’t.

Is the Knowledge Park:

A. An economic development strategy designed to bring thousands of high-paying, high-skill jobs to Rock Hill?

B. A strategy to redevelop the old Rock Hill Printing & Finishing site, the Bleachery?

C. An area that spans from Winthrop University to downtown Rock Hill that will be connected by a trolley?

D. All of the above?

The answer is A, B, C, or D, depending on who you talk to.

The multiple answers concern some city officials. They say it’s time to take a step back and focus on the big picture. “The Knowledge Park is much bigger than the Bleachery,” says Stephen Turner, the city’s director of economic development.

“The Knowledge Park is about jobs and growth.”

Big is the operative word. The city has broadly defined the Knowledge Park, maybe too broadly.

The Knowledge Park includes the new office building and park under construction downtown. The ideas for the park and office building predate the Knowledge Park concept by eight months. Comporium unveiled its Downtown East project – a park with a water fountain and office building – in February 2011. The Knowledge Park concept, which draws from many previous city studies, was first officially mentioned in October of that year.

The Knowledge Park brand also includes another possible downtown project – a performing arts center. The arts center idea was presented at the initial Downtown East discussion.

No doubt a new, downtown performing arts center would be a great amenity and a tremendous adjunct to the Knowledge Park. The kind of employees envisioned for Knowledge Park jobs want a vibrant community, one with fast Internet service, bike paths and green spaces, craft beers and an eclectic music scene.

But a new performing arts center can’t be lost in the larger Knowledge Park. It will need to stand on its own, particularly when it comes to finding the corporate sponsorship needed to make it a reality. Ideally the corporate dollars will come from companies in York, Chester and Lancaster counties.

While the redevelopment of the Bleachery is a key element of the Knowledge Park, it, too, in many respects will have to stand on its own. Yes, the redevelopment of the Bleachery by the partnership of Sora-Phelps has many stakeholders – the city, Winthrop University, the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. and the Knowledge Park leadership group of private businessmen.

But Sora-Phelps knows it will take more than just existing downtown workers and university students to make this project work. The numbers won’t add up if all we do is move existing resources. Bringing people to Rock Hill is essential for the project’s success.

To keep the Knowledge Park focused on its primary goal of economic development and job creation, city officials discussed options with members of the Knowledge Park leadership group recently.

A few “traditional” ideas were offered. Conduct a land-use study of a broadly defined area that would be the Knowledge Park. The study would look at the “other side of the tracks,” the properties that are undeveloped or under-developed because of their location.

The land-use study could be coupled with a marketing analysis.

The business leaders, however, focused on several simpler ideas.

What made Sora-Phelps’ presentation on the Bleachery development so successful, they said, were the artist renderings of what was proposed. The pictures conveyed the message that the long-hoped-for redevelopment of the textile site would actually happen.

A cautionary note: We’ve seen pretty pictures before. Much more convincing are the new utilities being constructed underneath the roads that bound the Bleachery.

What has the most promise, however, is not putting pen to paper, but rather going virtual. The task is finding the talent to create a virtual trolley tour of what we hope the Knowledge Park will become.

Imagine leaving Winthrop University and scanning your cellphone to pay for the trolley’s fare. Imagine passing a microbrewery and restaurant, and then arriving on Main Street where there’s a concert in the park.

The atmosphere for Knowledge Park must be created. We need to hear the Knowledge Park, taste the Knowledge Park, feel the trolley clicking over the tracks – and then sell the entire feeling to others.

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