When Adrian McCrorey opened his barber shop in the aging Edison Mall, he arrived with what he thought was a realistic expectation: A new roof, a repaved parking lot and some neighbors in the storefronts next door.
That was 10 years ago. Today, McCrorey is trimming the same heads of hair at Platinum Cuts, and little else around his shop on Saluda Street has changed. The ceiling leaks, the parking lot is still littered with potholes and adjacent spaces are vacant.
"It's been the same since I've been here," McCrorey said over the buzz of his electric clipper.
It wasn't supposed to be this way at Edison Mall or elsewhere on Saluda Street. Last year, the city of Rock Hill finished long-awaited street- scape upgrades aimed at encouraging a revival along the city's southern entryway. Speeding the mall's comeback was a major focus.
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Crews laid a new road surface, buried some overhead utility lines and put in new sidewalks on a roughly 2-mile stretch from Johnston Street to Heckle Boulevard. But as McCrorey's experience shows, the $4.5 million infusion has shown few signs of delivering on its goals.
The city's economic development chief offered a grim assessment this month, 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 across town on Cherry Road, similar upgrades on Saluda haven't achieved the same kind of result, at least not yet.
'Money is the problem'
To make gains, more public dollars likely are to be spent.
At Edison Mall, the city is trying to reach a deal with owner Mary Hyatt, a Rock Hill real estate agent who bought the property in 1999. After a series of changes in partners, she now co-owns it with a Charlotte cardiologist.
Hyatt asked City Hall for $72,000 last year to help pay for a new roof. As part of the original Saluda project, money was set aside to be used on such costs. City Council members balked, saying her request came with no guarantees that she would complete the overall renovation.
"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."
Hyatt said this week she's close to securing a financing deal with her bank that will allow for the needed assurances. But eight years after buying the building, she still isn't sure of costs or a start date.
"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."
Nearby merchants are skeptical that a breakthrough is near.
"She's been saying that for at least five years now," said Melvin Poole, who owns a tax service two blocks away and said he's tried to buy the building from Hyatt.
Poole said he thinks Hyatt is "holding onto it and hoping some major investor is going to come take it off her hands."
Hopes for a grocery store
Hyatt insists she has no plans to sell. This time, she will go back to the City Council with more specifics -- and hope for a more favorable response. Her success is important because Edison Mall always has been viewed as a critical piece of Saluda's revitalization.
The mall is one of the few sites big enough to accommodate a grocery store, which neighbors have wanted since a Winn-Dixie closed several years ago. Winn-Dixie and other stores left Saluda for newer retail centers in the 1980s and 1990s.
Around the same time, crime problems grew worse in nearby neighborhoods.
"I don't think this place is as bad as it used to be," said Belinda Ashford, owner of a Saluda Street salon called The House of Beauty. "But people are afraid to take the chance that it might be again."
A case of suburban flight
As the wait stretches on, prospects are shifting to the road's southern reaches, closer to new subdivisions on the outskirts. Manchester Village developer Tony Berry plans a project called Stonegate near Saluda and Heckle Boulevard. Tenants are expected to include a grocery and restaurants.
It's a classic case of suburban flight that will add another wrinkle to the Saluda dilemma. The hope is still for revitalization to make its way toward the interior portions, but opinions are split on whether Stonegate will be an asset or competitor.
"They've done a lot on Saluda, I'll give them that," said Doris Duncan, who has lived on the street since 1960. "The city's done their part. Sometimes, it's like a little spurt, and then dead in the water."