March 10, 2014

Rock Hill mayor ready to ‘get to work’ at Bleachery

As early development plans were approved on Monday for rebuilding on the old Bleachery site in Rock Hill, Mayor Doug Echols cheerfully told fellow City Council members and city employees that it was time to “get to work.”

As Rock Hill City Council approved early development plans Monday for rebuilding on the old Bleachery site, Mayor Doug Echols cheerfully told fellow council members and city employees that it was time to “get to work.”

Monday’s unanimous City Council approval of a “conceptual master plan” for redeveloping the old textile site followed last week’s big unveiling of details for the project, known as Knowledge Park. Knowledge Park would transform the city’s “textile corridor,” stretching from the downtown area to Winthrop University.

For years, city leaders have looked for a way to use the vacant land and some remaining buildings along West White Street, an area that was once Rock Hill’s largest employment center. After many past development plans were shelved, city leaders picked the development partnership Sora-Phelps in September to oversee the Knowledge Park economic development effort.

The old Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. land – commonly called the Bleachery – has potential to be a modern “mill village” with high-tech companies employing nearly 1,000 people and mixed-use development boasting restaurants, shops and residential space, said Tim Elliott, a developer with Sora-Phelps. The 23-acre site could, over the next several years, be home to 19 buildings with a trolley line running through the middle of the development.

Having the trolley as public transportation, Elliott said, is crucial to the success of Knowledge Park and the recruitment of well-known retail brands to invest in the area. The trolley would also help connect Winthrop students to Rock Hill’s downtown, which is about a mile from campus.

At full “build out,” Knowledge Park will occupy up to 1.3 million square feet of recreational, living, entertainment and office space. Main projects include student apartments for Winthrop, an active-adult living community, an athletic facility to attract sports tourism and multiple buildings for offices and high-tech companies.

The projected property tax gain from Knowledge Park is $2.8 million over the next several years. Sora-Phelps and other developers are expected to invest nearly $200 million.

While Monday night’s vote on Elliott’s plan was a resolution to accept the broad vision for Knowledge Park, city leaders are expected to consider development agreements related to the project within the next three months.

The agreement could be approved as one document to address a development timeline and land acquisitions, or the city could sign multiple agreements with Sora-Phelps, City Manager David Vehaun said Monday. Pending development agreements will be a “road map” for moving forward with plans, he said.

The city owns the Bleachery site and some other land in the Knowledge Park area. Sora-Phelps is expected to buy or lease the land from the city for future development.

As plans move from conceptual to actual, it’s important that developers and city leaders weave in the Bleachery’s and Rock Hill’s culture and textile history, Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo said Monday night.

Oborokumo’s grandfather and aunt worked at the textile mill, much like thousands of others in Rock Hill during the textile industry boom. She has memories of children playing in small creeks around the city when the Bleachery released different colors of dyes into the water system.

The area’s heritage should be showcased in Knowledge Park, she said, “and I believe Sora has that intent.”

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