It has been more than 20 years since the last cash register sale at the F. W. Woolworth store on Main Street in Rock Hill.
Now, the Rock Hill Economic Development Corporation - owners of the building - the city, Nova Capital and the Tuttle Company are poised to announce a giant cha-ching - a $4.8 million deal to tear down the former five-and-dime store and replace it with a multi-story apartment development.
You've read this story before. From the day the iconic merchant closed, there have been front-page stories in The Herald about someone doing something at Woolworth, and the result would be one giant step toward a vibrant downtown Rock Hill.
Some wanted to bring restaurants to the space. Others wanted to turn it into a museum. Others envisioned a courtyard of shops and eateries. In all cases, the result was more people, which would spur even more redevelopment downtown.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
Those stories were followed by ones about those Woolworth projects falling through, followed by those expressing hope that someone else would make things happen.
What's different this time around, say RHEDC officials, is they are not pinning their desires on hope.
"Hope is not a strategy," said Chairman Andrew Shene.
This time, Shene said, the crucial step has been taken - funding. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is willing to guarantee a loan for multi-family housing, said Stephen Turner, the city's economic developer.
With this guarantee for primary financing in place, the development corporation, the city and the private developers - Nova Capital, where Jason Tuttle is the principal, and the Tuttle Company - are moving forward. Turner said a final application to HUD should be ready by March, and if approved, construction could start in early 2013.
The project has been in the works for 3-1/2 years, said Skip Tuttle. Current plans call for about 46 units in five stories with street-level retail space. The apartments would be marketed to young professionals. Tuttle said HUD is interested in the project because it will do what so many have wanted - bring more people downtown and increase the viability of downtown retail and restaurants.
The projected development corporation investment in the project would be about $500,000 which includes the value of the building. Total private investment in the project would be about $1.3 million, Turner said. That includes the RHEDC participation.
The city would make about $500,000 in public improvements, such as sidewalk, street lights and other utilities. The city's investment is separate from the project's cost.
Independent studies show the demand is there, Shene said.
"We've got to take action," he said.
Turner said, "We've never been this far down the road on this project."
Shene understands all the reasons to be cautious. As an executive with First Citizens bank, he knows the lending climate and federal government's rules on speculative loans.
But Shene and the other private business members on the economic development corporation's board understand there is a different mindset when it comes to RHEDC.
Traditionally, the nonprofit's role has been a help make deals by mitigating and managing risk.
The corporation has helped make deals downtown and at the city's industrial parks. It owns land in both locations and gets income from renting properties.
But it has no active partnerships with the city. The Woolworth project is one of several partnerships with which the economic development corporation wants move forward.
Other priorities are the construction of a "spec" building at the South Cross Corporate Center with Beacon Partners, getting more sites graded at the Waterford business park so they are development-ready and constructing an entry to the Riverwalk Business Park.
Shene said a 20,000- to 50,000-square-foot, $2.4 million spec building and the work at Waterford business park could be completed this year. The municipal investment in the spec building would be about $500,000, Turner said.
The work at Riverwalk could start in 2013, Shene said.
Another priority is creating a joint investment fund between the city and the economic development corporation. The city budgets $2.5 million for economic development. The corporation owns property with a tax value of $1.7 million that could be sold and combined with the city's money. The investment fund would allow the city and the corporation to respond to economic development opportunities more quickly, Turner said.
RHEDC also wants to have an active role in developing the textile corridor between Winthrop University and downtown.
All of the priorities should result in jobs, which Shene said has become the primary focus of the economic development corporation and the city.
He acknowledges there are risks. If RHEDC invests in a project that sits idle, "we don't get out cash back," Shene said. A cash shortage would restrict future investment opportunities.
But, he said, the risk of doing nothing is greater.
"You get passed by," he said.