As demolition crews finish clearing rubble from the Bleachery site, Rock Hill leaders are taking a new, sobering look at plans to revitalize the former textile complex on the edge of downtown.
The conclusion: It's time to get realistic.
A grand vision to transform the property into a community of homes, shopping and entertainment is unlikely in the sluggish economy, city officials said Thursday.
Rock Hill should recruit businesses for three buildings left standing at the site, but the city will have to wait on the real estate market to recover before fulfilling hopes for a large-scale redevelopment.
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"The world has changed," said Stephen Turner, the city's economic development director. "Finding a developer with the financial strength that's going to be required...may be difficult.
"It's not the same world it was three or four years ago."
Mayor Doug Echols said he still believes the project will become a major draw for Rock Hill - in phases over a longer period, with retail and housing coming later.
"I personally like the idea of breaking it up into smaller bites," Echols said Thursday at a City Hall workshop.
"It looks like it's easier to manage that way."
Atop the priority list: Recruit one or more businesses to the Lowenstein building, distinctive for its tinted windows and prominent location on White Street.
The ready-to-occupy building makes sense for an office tenant or light manufacturing facility, city officials say.
"That's a real obvious project to go for in the short-term," Turner said.
A neighboring structure could be converted to a parking deck for employees, based on preliminary advice from engineers who toured the site.
Elsewhere on the 24 acres, a pair of water and power plant buildings could be marketed for restaurants or stores.
Civic boosters did not expect the project to take this course.
Rock Hill developer Lynn Stephenson bought the Bleachery out of foreclosure in 2003 and pursued dreams of an active adult community with an amphitheater and public park.
But the vision never blossomed. After the 43-year-old Stephenson died in 2009 from complications from a blood clot, Rock Hill officials had to step up their involvement.
The city agreed to commit $5 million in public money to tear down much of the complex. The city also declared an intent to buy the property for $900,000 once it has been razed - a step expected in April.
"Many years ago, we never thought we would be where we are today," said Councilman Kevin Sutton. "The dreams of retail, residential - a wonderful project - I'm just curious now, how realistic is that?"
Even before the economy turned sour, progress moved slowly in the Textile Corridor, a strip of industrial buildings between downtown and Winthrop University.
Seven of the nine companies that applied to coordinate development efforts for Rock Hill chose not to continue beyond the initial stages.
"We just don't think the market is there yet," David Levey, executive vice president of Cleveland-based Forest City Residential Group, said in 2005.
"This is an emerging market. It's not really a mature market. It just wasn't a big enough deal for us."
Local groups have suggested ways to make the site more attractive.
Build a corridor through the property for people to bike, walk and socialize between downtown and Winthrop University.
Operate a streetcar line from downtown to Winthrop for students and visitors. A city committee studying the idea will issue a report in the next few months, Turner said.
In the second half of this year, road crews will begin a three-lane widening on White Street from Dave Lyle Boulevard to Wilson Street, a key entrance into the corridor. This is a Pennies for Progress project.
City officials said they are eager to move forward with a new street grid, marketing strategies and utilities work. They don't know when the private sector will respond.
"It's a tough time to do it," said city manager David Vehaun, calling for a patient, optimistic approach.
"I don't think any of us would be talking about these things if we didn't think it was doable."