Price tag for new shops: $3M

Work could start by this summer on an outdoor shopping center that carries hopes for reviving the Rock Hill Galleria. But it won't happen without an infusion of taxpayer dollars.

After months of behind-the-scenes planning with city staffers, the Warren Norman Co. announced plans Monday night to turn 175 acres of wooded land into a retail hub that could eventually equal the size of Manchester Village.

As many as eight more anchor stores are envisioned over the next two to four years. Kohl's and Hobby Lobby opened last spring as the first phase.

The Normans say they wouldn't be able to do the project without $3 million in public money to help build a new road to the other planned stores. The land sits behind the mall and is beyond the reach of any current roads.

"You can imagine how hard it would be to sell a tenant on a place where there's no road to get to it," Warren Norman III said. "If the road were in place, this would be much easier to accomplish."

Rock Hill leaders agreed with that notion Monday, embracing plans that call for splitting the cost. The Normans would put up $2.5 million of their own money.

"This is a retail area that has never achieved its potential," said Stephen Turner, director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. "I think most people in Rock Hill would agree. The purpose of all these investments is to strengthen this area."

Public money for the road doesn't come from the city's annual budget. Instead, it comes from a special tax district created to pay for improvements in the Galleria area. A similar approach is being used to speed a revival in the downtown Textile Corridor.

The Normans and Turner's office presented figures showing that future tax money collected from the new stores will exceed the cost of building the road. Without help on the upfront costs, Norman said "the numbers won't work."

"That is a valid question and one we explored in depth," Norman said after the meeting. "We could not build the type of development that's needed out there without it. There's too much risk."

Before he died in 2005, Warren Norman Sr. joked about how the man who sold the land to him in the 1960s said "it wasn't good for anything but to hold the world together." That's because Interstate 77 wasn't built yet, and little else was close by.

Now, the site is poised to become home to Rock Hill's next major retail project -- and a much-needed boon for the Galleria.

Norman Sr., a conservative Republican who spent years trying to keep City Hall and its regulations off his back, probably would be amused to know his family was asking for help.

"We've been developing around here for a long time," said his grandson. "Rarely do we ask for help. In this situation, it truly is a win-win for the city."

The plan hasn't yet gotten final approval. A more detailed agreement will go before the City Council as early as June.