When Adrian McCrory opened his barbershop in the aging Edison Mall, he arrived with what he thought was a realistic expectation: A new roof, a repaved parking lot and new neighbors in the storefronts next door.
That was 10 years ago. Today, McCrory is trimming the same heads of hair at Platinum Cuts, and little else around his shop on Saluda Street has changed. The ceiling sometimes leaks, the parking lot is still littered with potholes and some adjacent spaces are vacant.
"It's been the same since I've been here," McCrory said Tuesday over the buzz of his electric clipper.
It wasn't supposed to be this way at Edison Mall or other points on Saluda Street. Last year, the city of Rock Hill finished a series of long-awaited streetscape upgrades aimed at encouraging a revival along the city's southern entryway. The mall was a focal point.
Crews put on a new road surface, buried some overhead utility lines and installed new sidewalks from Johnston Street to Heckle Boulevard. But as McCrory's experience shows, the $4.5 million public investment hasn't delivered on its intended benefits.
Last week, the city's economic development chief painted a bleak picture, saying the area around the old mall is "just a disaster."
"It's not happening," said Stephen Turner, director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. "We're going to have to step in. We've invested too much money to allow that area to continue to fester like it is now."
The challenges on Saluda offer a hard lesson in the limitations of taxpayer-funded improvements. While new sidewalks and fresh asphalt helped to lure a Super Bi-Lo to the old Rock Hill Mall property on Cherry Road, similar upgrades on Saluda haven't achieved the same result, at least not yet.
Progress is unlikely to take hold without property owners pitching in with their own money, city officials say.In the case of the Edison Mall, that obligation rests with Mary Hyatt, a Rock Hill real estate agent who bought the mall in 1999 and now co-owns it with a Charlotte cardiologist.
Hyatt said Tuesday that she's close to securing a financing deal with her bank. An infusion of cash will allow renovations to move forward, but Hyatt still isn't sure of costs or completion dates. She has no plans to sell the property, despite occasional overtures from potential buyers.
"We've lined people up to do the roof and the parking lot and the facade," Hyatt said. "And we've had a lot of calls from people who want to lease. They're just waiting for us. No one's going to lease it until we fix it up, and we understand that."
Hyatt went before the City Council last year to ask for a $72,000 grant to help pay for a new roof. Council members balked, saying her request came with no guarantees that she would complete the overall renovation. The city is willing to commit money, but leaders say they need a clearer picture of her plans.
"That's a huge project she has there, and that old building is going to need a lot of work," said Councilman Osbey Roddey, whose district includes the mall. "She still has hopes, I'll put it that way. The money is the problem."
Plans to move forward
This time, Hyatt said she will go back with more specifics -- and hope for a more favorable response. Her success is important because the Edison Mall has always been viewed as a crucial component of Saluda's revitalization.
It's one of the few properties big enough to accommodate a grocery store, which neighbors have wanted since a Winn-Dixie closed several years ago.
Today, the key to unlocking long-term redevelopment may hinge on the road's southern reaches, near the Heckle Boulevard intersection. Developer Tony Berry plans a shopping center and townhouse project called Stonegate, which will eventually become the city's third-largest commercial center behind Manchester Village and the Rock Hill Galleria.
With a new shopping center at one end and an improving downtown district at the other, the hope is that revitalization will make its way toward Saluda's interior portions. It just might take longer than anyone wants.
"They've done a lot on Saluda, I'll give them that," said Doris Duncan, who lives in the home her family bought in 1960. "The city's done their part. Sometimes it's like a little spurt, and then dead in the water."