Knowledge Park gets affirmative vote from York County Council

Rock Hill has plans to convert the former site of the Bleachery into Knowledge Park. Winthrop University’s Tillman Hall can be seen in the background.
Rock Hill has plans to convert the former site of the Bleachery into Knowledge Park. Winthrop University’s Tillman Hall can be seen in the background. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Rock Hill’s plans for Knowledge Park seem a bit more sturdy after the York County Council voted to go forward with a renewed agreement Monday night, but only after a long of closed-door discussion.

The council discussed late into the night Monday a proposal to approve the beginnings of an agreement to extend a special tax district for another 10 years.

York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said he wanted to see some kind of action on the agreement so the council could pass final reading as soon as the deal was complete. He earlier had said he hoped a final agreement would may even be complete by Monday’s meeting.

Instead, the council voted on a title-only ordinance to give initial approval to whatever the negotiations eventually produce.

Even as the motion came up for another vote, after the council had voted to reject the city’s extension request and re-enter negotiations with Rock Hill, County Council members continued to weigh their options.

Councilwoman Christi Cox, who headed the committee that ultimately voted to reject the city’s proposal, moved to take the council into executive session to discuss “legal options” for the proposal.

After meeting behind closed doors for five minutes, council members came back into open session and voted to defer action until the end of the meeting and a full executive session, pushing any decision back to after 10 p.m.

Once the council came back into open session, members gave the agreement approval by a 6-1 vote, with Cox the only dissenter.

“I need something tangible to vote for,” she said. “This is not something I’m going to pass and then look at the details later.”

The vote may be the beginning of the end in a long-running dispute between the city and county about redevelopment of the former Bleachery site in downtown Rock Hill.

In September, the York County Council sent a letter formally objecting to Rock Hill’s proposal for a 10-year extension to the special tax district, asking the city for more information on how any additional revenue would be spent.

In January, the council set up a committee to review the documents provided by the city.

After three months of review and deliberation, that committee voted unanimously on April 6 to reject a proposal from the city to extend the tax district out to 2039.

Instead, the full council voted to enter into a new round of negotiations with Rock Hill over an extension.

The special tax district around Knowledge Park was created in 2004.

Any tax revenue generated above the assessed property value of the land in that year now goes to fund infrastructure improvements around the former site of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. in order to attract new business and development to the area.

To create the district, York County and the Rock Hill school district agreed to forgo revenue from the tax district for 25 years, with the expectation of higher tax returns when the development was completed in 2029.

The school board has since agreed to an extension of the district for an additional 10 years.

City leaders say an extension is crucial to completing work on Knowledge Park, arguing work on the project was impacted by the recession and the death of a former developer.

But County Council members raised several concerns after rejecting the city’s initial proposal, saying York County should have more information on how much revenue it will give up by agreeing to an extension.

Council members also want to see the county’s contribution to the district raised to the 2015 assessment level during the extension, which would increase York County’s tax take during the final 10 years of the deal.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062