A strategy for sprucing up one of Rock Hill’s busiest roads includes the city giving business owners financial help to improve their properties and asking real estate agents to fill building vacancies with nonretail companies.
Those ideas are among more than a dozen moves that city planners say could be used to better Cherry Road. On Monday night, the City Council approved the improvement plan and the establishment of an incentive program that will give business owners money to make landscape upgrades.
Cherry Road, a four-lane highway, is a major thoroughfare for eastern York County commuters. It once thrived with new businesses and retail stores.
But since the late 1990s, city leaders say Cherry Road has been on a gradual decline. The plan for “revitalization” covers a 5-mile stretch, from Interstate 77 to Heckle Boulevard.
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At one end is a new residential and recreation community that includes city-owned sports venues. Near the other end is Winthrop University in an area that city officials want to transform into a “college town” concept.
In between, city planners say Cherry Road is challenged by old shopping centers with excess parking lots; buildings that don’t meet current development standards; overhead utility lines; and areas that have inadequate sidewalks or no sidewalks at all.
With a hands-on approach, the city could help restore Cherry Road to its former glory, planners told the City Council on Monday. Specific incentive programs and improvement projects have been prioritized in the plan according to costs, immediate need and feasibility.
The landscaping incentive program approved on Monday could see the city invest nearly $15,000 annually into helping business owners. Rock Hill will contribute $1 for every $2 spent by the business, up to $2,000.
The program targets Cherry Road businesses that need outdoor enhancements such as removal of excess concrete, new planters and other “beautification” projects. New businesses aren’t eligible for the incentives. Priority will be given to business owners who plant shrubs along Cherry Road, blocking parking areas from view.
Other proposed strategies for Cherry Road include:
• Allocating city money for businesses to enhance a storefront’s physical appearance.
• Adding public art and a “gateway” sign or structure near the I-77 interchange.
• Branding the area for marketing purposes to attract new investment and visitors.
• Asking businesses to install bike racks and make entry more pedestrian-friendly from the street.
• Evaluating traffic signal timing to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion around intersections.
On Monday, some council members said they appreciated the extra attention given to Cherry Road. Councilman Kevin Sutton stressed that the plan no longer includes the city paying for bicycle lanes on the road – an idea once proposed that he objected to.
Rolling out the Cherry Road plan is “somewhat fluid,” said city Planning Director Bill Meyer. Some of the programs – such as the landscaping incentives – will start soon. Others could take 10 years.
Eventually the improvement strategy could call for city efforts to phase out check cashing and title loan lending businesses, Meyer said. But Rock Hill officials are studying options to do that and waiting to see how other South Carolina cities and towns are handling the issue.