Knowledge Park group invites feedback on Rock Hill streetcar plans

Knowledge Park planners say a streetcar, like this one in Little Rock, Ark., could draw more people to downtown Rock Hill.
Knowledge Park planners say a streetcar, like this one in Little Rock, Ark., could draw more people to downtown Rock Hill. Herald file

Rock Hill could be an academic Epcot with a “Back to the Future” theme.

That was one way the city’s future was described at a public meeting on plans to develop the Knowledge Park area and tie it together with a downtown public transportation network.

Members of the Knowledge Park Leadership Group, a collection of business people pushing the redevelopment of the post-industrial section of downtown, presented their findings on the potential economic and community impact of different transportation models for Rock Hill, with a focus on the attraction and tourist-destination feel of a downtown streetcar.

Now, they want to know what the public thinks.

A survey was handed out to about 50 people who attended the meeting in the new Family Trust Federal Credit Union headquarters on West White Street, asking for their thoughts on Knowledge Park in general and specifically three other transportation options the group is considering:

▪ A trolley bus that could move without a rail system

▪ A modern bus

▪ An esplanade or “pedestrian mall,” a walkable downtown area that would be closed to motorized traffic.

An online version of the survey is available at knowledgeparkrockhill.com/transportation.

Matt Dosch, a Comporium executive vice president and member of the leadership group, said its members studied each option from the standpoint of feasibility, economic impact and and likelihood to connect Winthrop University with the downtown business district.

While a bus or trolley didn’t show a substantial economic impact, a streetcar showed an ability to attract riders, said David Lawrence, Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park development manager.

“It’s something people want to ride,” Lawrence said, “not something they need to ride because they don’t have another way to get where they’re going.”

A streetcar and its rail would provide a thread through the mixed residential and commercial development planned for the former site of the Bleachery, creating a “live, work and play” environment. Developers expect a potential ridership of 12,000 people between Winthrop and downtown.

The streetcar is also expected to have a stronger attraction to young people who tend to live in urban areas, work in the high-tech, creative industries Knowledge Park hopes to attract, and eschew driving everywhere they go.

“Your prototypical 20-something wants to have a strong sense of place in where they live and work,” Dosch said.

The next step for the leadership group is determining the feasibility of paying for the streetcar, but some think the mode of transportation itself could become a tourist attraction.

The redevelopment of downtown would make a scenic location for a streetcar, with developer Tim Elliott making the comparison between the downtown Rock Hill landscape and the 1985 time-travel movie, “Back to the Future.”

“Everybody wants that, and you’ve already got it,” Elliott said, noting that Main Street has “just the right sense of scale.”

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome