Bleachery land agreement gets Rock Hill council’s approval

A phased development map of the former Bleachery site. Phase 1 projects in yellow will be public amenities constructed by developer Sora-Phelps and then returned to Rock Hill via tax district financing.
A phased development map of the former Bleachery site. Phase 1 projects in yellow will be public amenities constructed by developer Sora-Phelps and then returned to Rock Hill via tax district financing. City of Rock Hill

The mostly empty Bleachery property in downtown Rock Hill is city-owned. Developers Sora-Phelps plan to turn it into a mix of apartment blocks, restaurants and office space. How to get to there from here?

The Rock Hill City Council provided the answer Monday in the form of a land development agreement between the city and the developer.

The latest agreement establishes the financial and regulatory relationships between the city and the developer, sets the “phases” for the project to unfold, and apportions responsibility for infrastructure in the Knowledge Park area – the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. site.

City attorney Paul Dillingham laid out the agreement for the council. In addition to the usual private development details such as zoning and use requirements, the agreement with Sora-Phelps also includes several public-private objectives, such as a sports tourism component and commitment to the city’s “knowledge economy” objectives for Knowledge Park.

Infrastructure in the redeveloped Bleachery site was the main focus Monday. Opening the planned development requires the construction and maintenance of new roads, utilities, parking garages and other public spaces.

The agreement puts the onus for these projects on Sora-Phelps. The developer will construct all the needed facilities for the development in line with a pre-approved facilities plan. Certain elements, like the required open green space and other “public amenities,” will be maintained in perpetuity by a property owners’ association.

“We have a model for the parking decks with others (in the city) we’ve developed jointly,” Dillingham said.

Sora-Phelps will later convey roads and utility infrastructure back to the city, between 2018 and 2021, depending on the phase of development.

But the majority of the property in Knowledge Park will remain in private hands – first Sora-Phelps, then other buyers – so the property can remain taxable and pay off the bonds for the special tax financing district.

Sora-Phelps would be required to pay for “a consultant of the City’s choosing to perform cost verification analysis ... (to) determine the purchase price for each of the facilities,” according to the agreement.

Rock Hill will purchase the facilities with money raised from its tax financing. The purchase price could be reduced depending on the available financing, such as “if a building is not appraised for what we think it should be apprised for.”

The council was shown a map detailing the first phase of developments, which will be the public facilities ultimately given back to the city. Councilman Jim Reno said he hoped the agreement would better specify those projects before the council holds a final vote on the proposal.

“This infrastructure is critical because we’re going to acquire that back through bonding,” Reno said.

The deal was ultimately approved by a 6-1 vote. Councilman Kevin Sutton voted against, citing his long-standing disagreements with the development team. “I just don’t have a good comfort level” with them, he said.

The land development agreement is different from the master plan approved by the council on March 29. That plan includes the proposal for a 164,000-square-foot indoor sports facility.

Among other structures to be built by Sora-Phelps on the site, the plan still includes a 499-bed student housing facility, 234 other housing units, a 140-room hotel, plus 256,00 square feet of office space and 110,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Knowledge Park is projected to attract $121 million in private investment.

Monday’s agreement replaces a temporary pact the city agreed to last June, after the tax district – and its funding – was extended for another 10 years.

Bristow Marchant: 803-329-4062, @BristowatHome