What does Rock Hill have that Fort Mill doesn't? For starters, a new downtown performing arts theater.
Rock Hill's City Council approved a plan last week to use hospitality tax revenue to convert a vacant bank building into a facility for plays, ballet classes and other uses that will raise the city's cultural arts profile and draw people to its downtown area. In fact, one person involved with the ballet element said that program attracts residents from neighboring communities - including Fort Mill.
Terrific. Why create something Fort Mill's stagnant downtown desperately needs right here when local residents can drive across a bridge and spend time and money in the more progressive and visionary city to the south?
Maybe that's not being quite fair. It's not that Fort Mill lacks vision, per se. Follow through seems to be the problem.
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Months ago, Fort Mill formed an arts commission to help develop such projects. The town also took advantage of an offer to "lease" - essentially for free - the Main Street building that used to house a theater with the idea of redeveloping it into an arts center.
Then what? Not much, if anything. The arts commission made a presentation to the town council about three months ago and there was talk about applying for a grant to help pay for some of the estimated $500,000 it will cost to renovate the old theater, which was gutted by a fire years ago and sat empty ever since.
Sure, there's been some talk about making something useful and enriching out of the empty shell with a classic facade that happens to be in a prime location surrounded by plenty of free, municipal parking. There's even a promising mention of it on the homepage of the town's Web site.
But talk is cheap. Compare this to the infinitely more active Fort Mill Arts Guild, which has already organized several events and continues to lead by example. One member, Marcia Buike, who served on the town's arts commission until she left in frustration over the lack of progress, is shouldering most of the cost of keeping The Art Mill gallery and studio, also on Main Street, open while waiting for donations, grants and user fees to help pay the rent.
As we've said before, creating and nurturing downtown destinations such as performing arts venues and galleries benefits the entire community. It provides cultural and educational opportunities, boosts retail and helps instill town pride. Rock Hill knows that, and once the idea was on the table the city worked fast to make it happen.
What does Rock Hill have that Fort Mill doesn't?
For starters, city leaders who do more than talk. They get it done.