Where does Knowledge Park go from here?

Redeveloping the Lowenstein Building at the Bleachery is the first phase of the proposed Knowledge Park plan before Rock Hill City Council.
Redeveloping the Lowenstein Building at the Bleachery is the first phase of the proposed Knowledge Park plan before Rock Hill City Council. aburriss@heraldonline.com

Nearly one year after the city of Rock Hill formally requested an extension of the Knowledge Park tax district, plans to develop the former industrial site between Stewart Avenue and North Wilson Street received the last piece of the puzzle when York County Council approved the extension last Monday.

Now that the planned residential and business hub is assured of another 10 years of tax-district financing – out to 2039 – a new phase in the property’s development begins. That phase will start Monday night, when the Rock Hill City Council will vote on an agreement with developer Sora-Phelps to manage the project.

But after that, it could take another 10 years before work on the site of the former Bleachery is finished.

“It will unfold in eight or nine different phases,” said Stephen Turner, Rock Hill’s economic and urban development director. “But work should definitely be underway by this time next year.”

The city council will take two separate votes on Monday. First, the council members must give final approval to extending the tax district. The vote is perfunctory because the city initially proposed extending the tax district, and Rock Hill officials have been pushing both the Rock Hill school board and York County Council to go along.

After that vote, city council members must approve the long-awaited agreement with Sora-Phelps. The city delayed approving the Sora-Phelps agreement until after York County signed off on extending the tax district.

Sora-Phelps is a partnership between Sora Development of Towson, Md., and Phelps Development of Greeley, Colo. The firm was selected in 2013 to be the Knowledge Park master developer.

The city is under pressure to approve an agreement with Sora-Phelps. In approving the extension of the tax district, York County Council also passed a last-minute amendment that makes it conditional on City Council approving the development agreement with Sora-Phelps. County council members reviewed a draft of the development agreement prior to their vote.

If Rock Hill rejects the Sora-Phelps agreement, the county provision requires the city to seek the county’s approval for an agreement with any new developer.

Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols doesn’t think the master developer agreement is likely to fall at this late hurdle.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time. It’s been worked on for months,” Echols said. “This has been put through the legal hoops, so this could have been done six months ago.”

Once that deal is approved, likely within the next three weeks, Turner expects construction to start within six to 12 months. The first item on the developer’s and the city’s agenda is renovating the Lowenstein building.

“The purpose of this development is jobs, so if you fill that building up, that will be the catalyst for the other retail and restaurants,” Turner said. “That being first is almost certain.”

Phase one development plans also call for a restaurant and a museum in the Lowenstein building. An adjacent one-story building would be redeveloped for civic uses, according to the proposed master developer agreement.

City utility work on the site will move alongside the first phase of development, as infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer lines are completed to serve the new development as it proceeds. Then work will move on to the next phase, each phase representing a different building on the site, or – in the case of a planned multi-family housing development at the site – possibly a cluster of buildings.

The city must also issue $40 million in bonds to pay for improvements; revenues from the tax district will pay off the bonds. But the master development agreement specifies that, if the cost of development goes beyond what the district’s revenues can support, the developer will have to make up the difference. Turner calls that guarantee “iron-clad.”

While Echols said the process of getting the extension approved “moved slower than I would have liked,” he doesn’t think the delay would have caused Sora-Phelps to get cold feet on moving forward with the agreement.

“There’s been no hesitation on their part,” the mayor said. “If this was a good deal two months ago, it’s a good deal now.”

Attempts to reach Sora-Phelps executives for comment were unsuccessful.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062

At 6 p.m. Monday the Rock Hill City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed Knowledge Park Master Development Agreement with the partnership of Sora-Phelps. The meeting is at City Hall, 155 Johnston St.

The Herald obtained a copy of the agreement Friday. The agreement:

▪ Is for five years and can be extended for up to 10 years.

▪ Establishes a series of projects that are expected to be completed by 2025.

▪ Establishes a timeline for phases and a purchase price for city owned properties. The total estimated sales price of city properties is $5.2 million.

▪ Establishes the developer contribution to proposed public improvements. The total estimated developer contribution is $3 million.

▪ Commits Sora-Phelps to develop the first two phases. Phase one is redevelopment of the existing Lowenstein Building and an adjacent building for offices, a museum, restaurant and civic space. Projected cost to purchase phase one properties: $1,138,207. Developer contribution: $805,200. Phase two calls for building student housing near Stewart Avenue. Projected cost to purchase land: $490,856. Developer contribution: $292,950.

▪ Calls for the developer to deposit $50,000 in earnest money during a 240-day inspection period. If the developer moves forward with the project, the money can be applied to purchasing property.

▪ Creates a master property owners’ association for all property owners in the Knowledge Park. The association would manage the development's common areas.

▪ Calls for the city to assist the developer in securing applicable state and federal tax incentives for the project.

▪ Calls for the city to build the necessary roads, sidewalks, landscaping, and utility services to the Knowledge Park. Other possible public infrastructure projects include the right of way and other facilities for a public transportation system; parking decks, public art, and historical markers.