Rock Hill leaders want an African-American Cultural Center. Here’s what they’re doing.

Rock Hill is a major step closer to having a new African-American Cultural Center.

Rock Hill, York County and the Culture and Heritage Commission now have an agreement that would start the ball rolling toward a new downtown site.

“It’s been a real wonderful thing, and it’s been a good opportunity, I think, for us to show how we can work together with the Culture and Heritage Commission so they can show off a lot of the history here in downtown Rock Hill, as well as York County,” said Mayor John Gettys.

Rock Hill City Council approved the one-year, non-binding agreement Tuesday night. York County did the same May 20. The agreement sets up a new, temporary site manager position. The person hired will work one year to determine how the cultural center may then move forward.

“It’s just an exploratory option to see what viability would this center have and how would we run it, how would it fit into Rock Hill’s story, how would it fit into York County’s story,” said York County Councilman William “Bump” Roddey.

Roddey supports the new site. He represents the Rock Hill area on county council, and he’s met with city, museum and project leaders on the project.

“What this is doing is just putting someone on staff to do its due diligence to bring back to the museum, to bring back to Rock Hill, to bring back to York County, what this will look like, how it would function and if this is something we could move forward with,” Roddey said.

Gettys said work remains to be done, but getting this far is the culmination of three or four years of effort. Much of it happening in the past year.

“This past spring the Culture and Heritage Commission agreed to take under its purview the programming and operation of (an) African-American Cultural Center in what we used to call the red brick house, right by the water tower,” Gettys said. “Now it’s the Williams Ivory House. It’s been my pleasure to work on this for the last year.”

The actual agreement doesn’t mention a site. It does mention the city-owned building at the intersection of Main and Allen streets, referenced by the mayor. The city owns 18 properties in and around the red brick house, which include the water tower on one side and a large cemetery on the other.

Though non-binding, the agreement has both county and city leaders optimistic they can work out details like funding.

“From now ‘til this time next year, the city and county and Cultural Heritage Commission have worked out a split,” Gettys said. “But it’s giving a year for the Culture and Heritage Commission to show that this is a sustainable project.”

Both groups also see considerable potential to attract visitors.

“This will just be a wonderful amenity for all those visiting our downtown area,” Gettys said. “Once that sports and events center opens, as well.”

Not far from the red brick house, Rock Hill will open its sports and events center in Knowledge Park. The site will have more than two dozen basketball and volleyball courts, seating up to 1,200 people at its championship court. City leaders say the site will be packed well into the future, steering decisions like paid parking within the city.

“What I know about Knowledge Park is there will be thousands of people visiting that area through the Rock Hill athletic facility on a weekly basis, in the very near future,” York County Councilman Joel Hamilton said during his group’s decision on the agreement. “There’s an opportunity there to market our wonderful historic assets in our county to people and expose them to our history, which I think we should be proud of.”

Rock Hill Councilwoman Nikita Jackson said she believes it’s a great idea to move forward with the center, given all the history Rock Hill has to share.

“The role that the City of Rock Hill has played in civil rights — with the Friendship 9 and the City Girls — to spotlight them as well and all the other African-American culture, history, that we have here. It’s a wealth of information and knowledge,” she said Tuesday night.

The Culture and Heritage Commission is appointed by York County to govern the Culture & Heritage Museums, which include Historic Brattonsville, Main Street Children’s Museum, McCelvey Center and Museum of York County.

Gladys Robinson, chair of the city’s African-American Resources Advisory Committee, has been working on the community center four years.

“It will do a lot for Rock Hill,” she said. “When people come to Rock Hill, especially with all that‘s going on with Knowledge Park, and now with the Panthers facility that we hope will come here, people look for the diversity in the community and how it’s reflected.

“We’re kind of a melting pot. I think when people come, they want to see that. It’s a wonderful blend of cultures within that small area.

“There’s been more of an effort over the course of the past few years to address the issues that Rock Hill has seen,” she said. “I think Rock Hill has gone a step further. Rock Hill is doing more than other cities that I have gone to in trying to spotlight the culture of the African-American community. You have to see and appreciate what we all bring to the table. And I think Rock Hill is at that point.”

Related stories from Rock Hill Herald