Recent additions to the Kingsley Park North business park gave Fort Mill leaders a taste of what economic and other incentives can accomplish. Now they want more.
At its quarterly workshop Wednesday, Fort Mill Town Council met with leaders from the Fort Mill Economic Council on how a partnership can yield more businesses and targeted growth downtown. Talk centered on a priority investment district, a roughly mile-radius area from Main Street where the town would promote and incentivize business and urban residential projects.
Joe Cronin, town planning director, said there are parts of Fort Mill where businesses will locate almost regardless of town efforts due to economic factors. The investment district will focus just on the central, most historic part of Fort Mill.
“This is not a town-wide approach,” Cronin said.
Still only a topic for discussion, the district would need a name, officials said. Early frontrunners are Millstone Village District, Mill Town Village, Mill Town Square and Fort Mill Town Center.
What would it do?
Wink Rea, board member with the economic council, sees 468 pages of state business investment incentives as an opportunity for Fort Mill.
“You can rest assured that these were used in our successful recruitment of LPL and the Lash Group,” he said.
Last month, LPL Financial and the Lash Group, announced moves to Kingsley Park North. They saw the Anne Springs Close Greenway and significant reductions in county and town taxes as incentives to relocate.
Fort Mill has options to draw more business downtown. There are incentives for textile rehabilitation, corporate headquarters, historic preservation and job or corporate income tax credits. There are post-improvement grants. There’s the Bailey Bill that offers up to a 25 percent tax reduction and freezes property value for a period of time.
The town might offer special services, like waived or reduced fees for business, or expedited permitting.
“Time is money,” Rea said. “When a developer is looking to build in a municipality and they’re looking at Rock Hill or Lancaster County, that’s something they look at.”
Cronin said an incentive program wouldn’t aim to incentivize a business per se, but instead the capital investment that business would make in Fort Mill. The town wouldn’t want to throw money at any project that comes, he said, but could benefit its tax base, total jobs and overall economy with the right plan.
“You have to have goals and a public purpose,” Cronin said.
Promoting Fort Mill
Bringing business into the new downtown district will be easier, said town events and media coordinator Kimberly Starnes, if businesses already know the area.
“We’ve never promoted a certain district before,” she said. “This is something new.”
Ideas are for events, concerts, real estate agent and small business liaison partnerships to promote the district. It could have its own app. There could be a “murder mystery” or “restaurant week” event, or a food truck run. The district would have its own website and directional signs around town.
Part of drawing new business would be support of existing ones in the district, Starnes said.
“Once you get the businesses to buy in, then you get the citizens to buy in,” she said.
The town would take lessons from events like the South Carolina Strawberry Festival, as well as past ventures that haven’t been as successful, in creating new events to draw people downtown.
“We’re talking about sustainable economic development,” said Councilwoman Guynn Savage, noting the district wouldn’t be a once-a-year occasion like the Strawberry Festival. “We’re talking about people coming here to stay here.”
Several on hand Wednesday talked about the new district as a legacy they could leave to the town. But legacies take time.
“This is going to be long-term,” Rea said. “It’s got to be committed.”
One issue they’ll need to resolve is the order in which they tackle the district. A restaurant week might need more than the one restaurant on Main Street.
“There’s got to be something here first,” said Councilman Tom Adams.
Talk is of projects like The Greens at Fort Mill, where residents live within walking or biking distance from growing downtown hot spots for dining or shopping. But apartments or high-density housing wouldn’t mean a car-free area.
“We have to have traffic on the table every time we talk about anything,” Savage said.
Then, there’s money. David Ward, board member with the economic council, said a private sector funding network would join any public money spent on the new district.
“This has been the big missing piece,” he said.
A small area plan might cost $50,000-$75,000. Another $50,000 or more would be needed to develop historic preservation guidelines, plus $10,000-$20,000 to develop a zoning overlay for the district and $5,000 for marketing. All are rough estimates.
Council didn’t make a formal decision Wednesday. But members seemed in agreement that with businesses coming to Fort Mill already, the time may be ripe to target the type of growth they might want downtown.
“It makes sense to do it now, when all this change is coming,” Adams said.