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City: Plant would bring about 60 jobs to Riverwalk

The city of Rock Hill is working to land a water bottling plant that would bring a significant number of jobs to the Riverwalk development, city documents show.

The company seeks a "very aggressive" construction timeline for opening a 250,000-square-foot facility by October 2011, according to a planning memo released Thursday.

While the memo does not give a name, two sources with knowledge of the talks identified the company as Niagara Bottling, the country's largest privately owned producer of bottled water.

The plant, which could employ about 60 people, would represent the first major business tenant at Riverwalk, a planned community on the former Celanese industrial site off North Cherry Road.

Riverwalk manager Dave Williams could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Rock Hill City Manager David Vehaun said he is optimistic but could not go into specifics with negotiations under way.

"It's outstanding for Riverwalk," Vehaun said. "Dave has worked really hard to attract companies. This is the first of many things that will end up out there, just because it's such a great development."

Described as the largest development project in Rock Hill history, Riverwalk will bring an outdoor shopping village, homes, sports venues and a business park to a 1,000-acre site along the Catawba River next to Interstate 77.

A partnership called the Greens of Rock Hill cleaned up the property and has worked on a redevelopment since 2005.

Niagara Bottling operates nine bottling and distribution centers across the U.S. but does not have a facility in the south, according to a map on its website. The closest existing center is in central Florida.

A company spokesperson could not be reached Thursday.

Big hopes for Riverwalk

With Riverwalk's easy access to I-77, Rock Hill officials view it as a prime place for jobs to replace the fading textile industry. Unemployment in the city stands at 19.8 percent, the first drop below 20 percent in 17 months.

The city committed up to $50 million in public financing to pay for streets, utilities and other public amenities at Riverwalk. Future businesses and residents on the property will pay back the money through special tax districts.

In 2007, Rooms To Go considered Riverwalk as the home for a giant distribution center that could employ up to 600 workers. But the economy turned sour and a deal did not materialize.

The new proposal will go before city planning commissioners Jan. 4.

Bottling companies often buy water from local communities and then add their own treatments.

Rock Hill's municipal water plant has plenty of capacity to add a large customer.

In the mid-2000s, the city expanded its plant on Cherry Road to boost capacity to 36 million gallons per day. Demand now hovers around 20 million gallons daily.

Last year, residents in the city of Groveland, Fla., protested a plan by Niagara to draw almost 500,000 gallons of water a day from the Floridan Aquifer. Opponents argued it made no sense at a time of tightened water restrictions.

On its website, the California-based company lists green-friendly advances such as an "eco-air" bottle that uses 30 percent less plastic.

Solar panels and eco-friendly techniques have led to an annual reduction of 211 million pounds in carbon emissions, Niagara says.

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