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‘Amazing progress’: Rock Hill officials offer high praise for University Center plans

Rock Hill leaders get sneak peak at $45 million historic site

December 2016 file video: Members of the Rock Hill City Council took their first look at the inside of the historic Lowenstein and an adjacent building, which are part of the future University Center in downtown Rock Hill. The Lowenstein building
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December 2016 file video: Members of the Rock Hill City Council took their first look at the inside of the historic Lowenstein and an adjacent building, which are part of the future University Center in downtown Rock Hill. The Lowenstein building

Gutting, cleaning and sandblasting asbestos from one of Rock Hill’s oldest textile mills was already a challenge.

Next, there’s the windows.

In the coming weeks, workers will measure, fit and replace every single one of the 25,000 window panes on the Lowenstein Building and an adjoining 1939 building as a part of the ongoing University Center renovations.

Each window pane (and each piece of glass inside) has a distinct size dimension. Builders need to renovate the windows, rather than replace them, to adhere to regulations on a building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Skip Tuttle, co-owner of The Tuttle Company. “It is (daunting), but it’s doable.”

Tuttle teamed up with Williams & Fudge CEO Gary Williams and others to help repurpose the old textile buildings.

The team is working with Sora-Phelps, the master developer for the site. Sora-Phelps has an agreement with Rock Hill to redevelop the 23-acre site that was once the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., commonly called the Bleachery.

University Center 2 (1)
In May, developers of University Center, a future development located on 23 acres of downtown Rock Hill property, once the site of the Bleachery, unveiled plans for future shops, apartments, offices, restaurants and outdoor spaces. Rendering courtesy of City of Rock Hill

The University Center area is an extension of the Knowledge Park project. The city is hoping the investment and development will serve as a bridge between the Winthrop University campus and the downtown business district.

The finished product, developers say, will include a hotel, apartments, a market pavilion, retail space, student housing, and a 140,000-square-foot sports complex.

But the first step lies in the Lowenstein Building. Members of the Rock Hill City Council, including Mayor Doug Echols, toured the area Tuesday afternoon where most of the cleaning has recently finished. Workers have sandblasted lead paint and removed asbestos.

The Lowenstein Building is now in a “shell mode,” Williams said. Once the interior work is completed and the exterior glass is replaced, workers can begin to upfit the space for new clients.

Tuttle said the building (228,000 square feet of office space) is about 50 percent pre-leased. He said developers are in talks with other tenants about taking over in the space.

Some infrastructure, including sprinkler pipes, has been installed. But there’s plenty of work to be done, Tuttle said.

“We’ve got to install the electrical system, heating and cooling, plumbing, everything you need to make it work,” he said.

The full renovation price tag is about $45 million for the area including the Lowenstein Building and the 1939 building, Tuttle said.

The five-story Lowenstein Building is one of last remaining structures from the textile plant which operated from 1929 to 1998. At the height of its operations, the Bleachery had 30 buildings with 2.5 million square feet under roof and employed one of every five workers in Rock Hill. The plant bleached, dyed, printed and finished cloth.

Initially, Tuttle and Williams wanted to renovate just the Lowenstein Building. But closer examination showed that the project needed to include the adjacent building – or build an expensive fire wall between the two buildings.

The two buildings will now be connected, in part, by an underground parking lot that will hold close to 280 spots.

Tax credits are a big reason why the project got off the ground: The buildings were eligible for four different tax credits, designed to stimulate development.

The developers will be submitting upfit permits in about six weeks, Tuttle says, and the tenants may be able to move in by around the third quarter of 2017.

The 1939 building will likely be the space for team rooms, meeting spaces, office space, bathrooms and other uses for the sports complex.

Tuttle said he felt confident that the sports complex arena would be finished by the first quarter of 2018.

“I think they’ve made amazing progress,” said City Council member Kathy Pender. “It greatly expands the capacity for jobs creation and sports tourism in Rock Hill.”

David Thackham: 803-329-4066, @dthackham

Holiday schedule for city offices

City offices are scheduled to be closed all day on Dec. 23, Dec. 26 and Jan. 2. Offices also will be closed noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 22.

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