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Rock Hill leaders urged to package Bleachery, other sites for marketing

If the city of Rock Hill wants to see the Bleachery site redeveloped, it will have to include on other areas in its plans, city leaders said Thursday.

"The Bleachery site cannot stand alone," said Stephen Turner, the city's economic development director. "If (development around the Bleachery) stays as it is today, the Bleachery site is not going to be successful."

That strategy was aided in a Rock Hill City Council workshop Thursday, when Lee Gardner, president of Family Trust Federal Credit Union, announced plans for an administrative headquarters at 225 W. White St., an investment between $6 million and $8 million.

Family Trust operates a branch at that location today.

The credit union's history is linked to the Bleachery - the former Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. plant - dating to the 1960s. Bleachery workers were Family Trust account holders.

Family Trust's plans call for a 36,000-square-foot building that will employ 40 to 50 people at first, with a tentative opening date of January 2015.

At Thursday's workshop, Turner asked City Council members to take a "new perspective" on developing the Bleachery site.

At one point, the 23-acre site was home to the largest cloth printing and finishing plant under one roof in the world, according to city documents. It closed in 1998.

A few buildings remain - the power plant, the Lowenstein building, the filter plant and the towers. Since the city took ownership of the site last April, it's undergone an environmental assessment.

In a brief update, Steven Irminger, senior engineer with Irminger Consulting, said the site was still in good shape environmentally. The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to fund additional assessments, and the city is pursuing funds for site cleanup.

It was suggested Thursday that the 23 acres be divided into parcels of land and be specified for commercial development rather than multi-family use.

But the biggest discussion came when Turner talked about potential interest in the site from developers.

City staff has talked up the Bleachery site to 15 developers across the Southeast, including Charlotte and Atlanta. At least 10 of them have visited the site.

"The real estate economy is in a lot better condition than it was in January of last year," Turner said. "There are developers out there who want to play a lead role in partnership with the city to redevelop this."

But with so much focus on the site's environmental condition, abatement, cleanup and how the city can market the Bleachery site alone, Turner said it was time to think differently and package the Bleachery with other exciting areas in the city.

He pointed to the development of Winthrop University's campus, Downtown East, the Cotton Factory, upcoming improvements and upgrades to White Street, the creation of an Old Town Market Hall downtown and new downtown businesses, among others.

With so many projects from the East Main Street side to Cherry Road, he suggested public and private developers and city staff put together a portfolio of development opportunities with market data and sponsors for potential developers.

A master developer would have to be selected to help oversee the project.

"The message here is, while the Bleachery site is important," he said, "it's just one piece of a broader strategy."

City officials were happy to see the ongoing development in Rock Hill, but they wondered if expanding the focus from just the Bleachery to more of the city would stunt future projects.

"If we broaden our focus to the whole area, some might say that we lesson our focus on the Bleachery site and get less done on the Bleachery," said councilwoman Kathy Pender.

Mayor Doug Echols and council members wanted assurance the Bleachery wouldn't get left behind as future development comes.

City Manager David Vehaun said everyone is committed to seeing the site succeed and that the same amount would still get done.

Gardner said the Family Trust headquarters development is very much in the design phase.

He said Family Trust was inspired to open a headquarters there after seeing all of the development proposed for downtown and the Bleachery site.

"We'd like to be a part of that, of something we think is going to be very big," he said.