Knowledge Park nears final vote by 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

After nearly a year’s worth of discussion, a months’ long review by a special committee and weeks of negotiation and renegotiation between the county and the city of Rock Hill, the York County Council is scheduled to vote Monday night on giving its final approval to an extension of the Knowledge Park special tax district.

As far back as September of last year, York County rejected a perfunctory request for a 10-year extension of the special tax district that covers a downtown area of Rock Hill centered on the former site of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co., popularly known as the Bleachery.

County officials have long been skeptical of extending the tax district and of declining additional tax revenue that would otherwise go to the county to pay for it. After September’s vote, the county council waited until January to return to the issue while Rock Hill negotiated a separate agreement with the school district to extend the district.

County council then named an ad hoc committee to review the details of the existing Knowledge Park deal and suggest ways to improve it. After more than two months of committee meetings, council followed its recommendation and, in April, voted again to reject the city’s proposal and entered into another two months of negotiation on a final deal.

The details of the agreement made public so far specify that the city not spend any of the county’s money on a proposed streetcar or city employees’ salaries, and that the funds not be used on utility infrastructure or upgrades. The city also must provide York County with detailed annual reports on Knowledge Park’s progress, spelling out how much money has been spent and on what it’s been spent.

Rock Hill would be required to submit the details to the county council by May 1 of each year in order to receive the county’s portion of the district’s funding.

Some skepticism

Final approval of the deal isn’t assured. Last month, county council gave its initial approval to a tentative agreement by a 6-1 vote, with longtime critic Christi Cox opposing the deal. On a second vote two weeks later, she was joined in opposing the extension by Bruce Henderson.

Other council members have also expressed skepticism about the extension and asked for more information from the city. Even a few weeks ago, after the two initial county votes, some details of the final agreement still were under discussion.

The city set up the 25-year tax district in 2004 to fund improvements to a blighted post-industrial area that lies between the downtown business district and Winthrop University, with the goal of attracting new investment and development to the site. Any additional property tax income derived from rising property tax values in the area are earmarked for utility and infrastructure improvements.

Rock Hill wants the district extended out to 2039 in order to complete the project, but York County and the Rock Hill school district also must approve the extension because their tax revenue also is limited by the district.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062