Within the next three months, construction crews could be packing up the orange cones and road detour signs on the east end of downtown Rock Hill. But, city officials say pending road projects in other parts of downtown will again affect traffic for months, starting later this year.
Construction is wrapping up on a new office building, parking garage and public park around Main Street and Elizabeth Lane. The “Downtown East” project – a partnership between Comporium Communications and the city – will be mostly finished this summer.
By September, road work could begin on parts of Oakland Avenue and White Street in an effort to make pedestrian crossings safer and add on-street parking for downtown businesses and visitors. During the fall road projects, officials say, streets likely won’t be closed completely but traffic will be reduced to one lane of travel in each direction.
Planned changes for Oakland Avenue and White Street include: restriping parts of each street to reduce the number of lanes from four to two; replacing sidewalks and installing new curbs and gutters; and, phasing in decorative light poles.
The project will affect Oakland Avenue traffic, from Black Street to White Street. Traffic will also be impacted on White Street, from Oakland Avenue to the entrance of the parking lot on White Street, behind the Old Town Market Hall.
Eliminating some traffic lanes in downtown could solve some safety issues for people crossing the street, but the reduction could make getting to and from major events a headache for drivers, Councilman John Black said this week.
At a workshop on Thursday to discuss various downtown projects, Black voiced concern about the planned street lane reductions. “Let’s not get too happy with closing all our lanes,” he said.
Rock Hill’s downtown core will have limited traffic lanes, but busier, larger roads, such as Dave Lyle Boulevard, will serve as conduits for downtown visitors to get in and out, said Phil Okey, infrastructure supervisor with the city’s economic and urban development office.
As downtown grows, Okey said, traffic congestion could become a problem, adding that “being successful downtown is a two-edge sword.”
The state Department of Transportation and the city of Rock Hill are sharing the cost of the nearly $980,000 upcoming downtown road projects. If more money becomes available, city officials say, the White Street road improvements will continue to Dave Lyle Boulevard.
New park could draw downtown hotel
The ongoing road upgrades serve to make downtown Rock Hill attractive for private investors, such as those companies involved in developing Downtown East, Mayor Doug Echols said on Thursday.
Developer Warren Norman of Warren Norman and Co. told Rock Hill City Council members that Downtown East is “going better than I personally expected it to go.” Comporium is paying for the construction of a four-story office building and a fountain being built in the park nearby.
Last year, the city borrowed about $9 million to pay for various downtown projects, including $3 million for the parking garage and $4.8 million for the park and surrounding “streetscape” improvements.
Office tenants could be moving into their new space this fall, Norman said.
“The feedback has been phenomenal,” he said, adding that one tenant has publicly announced plans to move in: Morton and Gettys Law Firm. Other businesses interested in leasing space, Norman said, haven’t given him permission to share their plans.
The first floor will be occupied by a bank. Earlier this year City Council members signed off on a parking garage agreement that sells some exclusive spots to Comporium and its office building tenants. TD Bank was named then as a prospective first-floor tenant.
City officials have said in the past that a hotel could be built on Main Street, where the downtown TD Bank branch currently sits.
Norman and others are now vetting the feasibility of the hotel, he said. Possible hotel construction would be on an “aggressive timeline” and could begin next year.
A downtown hotel could overlook the city’s “Fountain Park,” a 1.6-acre park that replaces an old municipal parking lot at Main Street and Elizabeth Lane.
Council members asked this week whether children would be allowed to play in the park’s water feature. Rock Hill employees were quick to say the park isn’t a “play park” but that a smartphone application is being developed to allow visitors to control the fountain’s water jets.
“It is going to be tempting with the water splashing around,” Black said of playing in the fountain.
While city officials say no one will be allowed in the fountain’s water, a brick sitting wall and benches are planned for visitors to enjoy the park.