A 25-year cycle of optimism and disappointment appears over for those wanting to redevelop the former Woolworth store in downtown Rock Hill.
The partnership of The Tuttle Co. of Rock Hill and Lat Purser & Associates of Charlotte plan to spend $3.7 million to build a four-story, 37-unit apartment complex at 139 W. Main St.
To make the deal work financially, Rock Hill is contributing $325,000 in incentives, which include paying to demolish the building. The city’s contribution is not expected to fully reimburse what the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp., which has owned the building since 1989, is spending on the demolition.
Economic development officials are willing to lose money on the deal to accomplish the city’s long-standing goal of having more people live and work downtown. City officials believe that more people downtown will attract more businesses there.
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Redeveloping the Woolworth site has been a seven-year quest for developer Skip Tuttle.
His previous effort came close in 2013, but $6 million in financing from the U.S Department of Urban Development for a five-story residential complex proved too costly and cumbersome, Tuttle said Tuesday.
Tuttle sought alternatives, finding them with Lat Purser, which he had done business with before. The company’s “My Niche Apartments” division builds apartment complexes ranging from 40 to 160 units in tight downtown locations, Tuttle said.
Jack Levinson, senior vice president of Lat Purser, said the company was attracted to the Rock Hill project because it is a public-private partnership, it is downtown, and “we would be first in. There is a different risk when you’re first.”
Downtown Rock Hill’s score at walkscore.com – a website that measures how easy it is to walk to restaurants, stores and cultural offerings – also was a factor, he said. Downtown scored a 67, just three points from being a “very walkable community,” where most errands can be accomplished on foot.
Several factors helped control costs for the proposed project, Tuttle and Levinson said.
The city incentives, Tuttle said, helped bridge the financial gap as construction costs for multi-family projects continues to rise.
The new proposal is four stories, not five, Levinson said, which significantly cut construction costs. The number of units was cut, from 46 to 37, and all of the proposed apartments are one-floor units, instead of two or three. Each plan calls for first-floor retail space.
Most of the units will be one-bedroom apartments. Proposed rents range from $760 to $1,250. Each apartment will have a balcony that will overlook a city-owned walkway with a “civil rights” theme.
The Woolworth lunch counter, as well as the old McCrory’s lunch counter next door, were the scenes of civil rights protests. It was at the McCrory’s counter that students from Friendship Junior College were denied service and arrested. The students and their organizer – the Friendship Nine – opted to serve their time in jail, rather than pay bail and go free – sparking a new “Jail, No Bail” strategy that spread across the nation.
The rent includes a dedicated parking space. Residents will pay their own utilities.