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Rock Hill woman’s vision becomes Brakefield at Riverwalk

It is a slice of Thomas Kinkade art come to life, sitting on a rise above the Catawba River with the rippling river and chattering birds as a backdrop.

It was designed by Carol Goodwin, a self-professed “nightbird” who spent the late hours of the evening in her pj’s, scribbling ideas on whiteboards and searching the Internet for industry facts.

As the plan developed, she asked lots of questions of family, friends and strangers. Most of the time she asked the questions in person.

“I’m a face-to-face person, not a Facebooker,” Goodwin said.

It was a different experience for the woman who grew up as a tomboy and whose favorite job of all time was running the forklift at the family’s corrugated box company in Charlotte.

Even though it’s hidden from view from most motorists on North Cherry Road, the Brakefield at Riverwalk has been the buzz among those in-the-know around Rock Hill for several months. It hasn’t been officially opened, but the events center already has about 90 bookings for weddings and meetings. The first wedding is April 5.

The official debut comes at 11:30 a.m. Friday with a ribbon cutting by the York County Regional Chamber of Commerce and then an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Between today and Friday there are a lot of details to master. Workers are hanging draperies. Hundreds of chairs and cushions have arrived and each needs inspection. Paintings and coat racks need to be hung on the walls. Then there’s the final spit-and-polish cleaning.

There are so many details that they threaten to overwhelm Goodwin, Brakefield’s designer and co-owner. But handling details is something Goodwin does well. She learned much of that skill at the family box business, rising from forklift operator to president.

She learned to deal with customers and vendors. She helped build and maintain a 121,000-square-foot plant. “I learned a little bit of everything,” she said, including that “I’m a control freak. ... I want to do things that way I like to do things.”

The family sold the company in 2007, and Goodwin was a stay-at-home mom for all of three months. The Rock Hill resident went to work for others, all the time looking for the opportunity that would make her want to go to work with a smile.

Several events led her to the Brakefield project.

One was her son’s marriage. She looked around the area for a stand-alone venue but couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for.

About a year after the wedding, she spied a Thomas Kinkade print her co-workers had given her at the corrugated box plant. Looking at the print, she thought, “ ‘Wouldn’t that have been a beautiful place to get married?’ The bells and whistles started going off.”

When she was laid off from her office job in Rock Hill in April 2010, she decided to turn her Thomas Kinkade-inspired idea into a reality.

As architects for Matthews, N.C.-based A Vision in Design turned her ideas into drawings, she went looking for a location. Riverwalk was suggested, but she did not like the first two properties she saw. The third property, reachable at the time only by a four-wheel-drive vehicle and a walk through the woods, wowed her.

The million-dollar view of the river was the right place for her million-dollar project.

“If I could pat the river on the back, I would,” she said.

Simon & Watson Construction of Fort Mill turned her and the architects’ vision into reality. Along the way, Goodwin selected just about everything that went into the project. “The colors, the stone, the gutters, the roof, I’ve touched everything. It has been a lot of fun.”

She tried to use local labor and products as much as possible.

Her intent was to create something that had an Old World feel and was comfortable, sophisticated and charming.

“What I’m hearing from visitors are: ‘stunning, gorgeous, this place has character,’” Goodwin said.

When it came time to name the project, Goodwin considered her mother-in-law’s maiden name, Brakefield. When she discovered it meant an opening in the woods she knew she had the perfect name. She added “at Riverwalk” to make it flow and connect to the community.

Now Goodwin is anxious for the next phase. She sees herself as the caretaker for Brakefield. She will provide the foundation and the ambiance for an event.

“It should be a wonderful job,” she said. “I’m dealing with people at the best time of their lives.”

Her goal is to make everyone, vendors and clients, happy. And herself too.

“I built this place for me. I hope you like it.”