More progress downtown

The plan to build 16 high-priced townhouses at the site of the old Red Coach Inn would be a big improvement over the ramshackle inn and a boon for the city.

The Red Coach had been located on East Main Street near downtown Rock Hill. While once a motel catering to out-of-town visitors, it had served for years as low-cost rental housing for transients. Nearby homeowners in the East Town neighborhood continually complained about rampant drug use, prostitution and other unsavory conduct at the inn.

In 2005, the City Council authorized the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. to buy the Red Coach for $205,000 from the bank that had foreclosed on it. Eight months later, RHEDC spent another $35,000 to raze the buildings and make the site ready for redevelopment.

Now, a development team hopes to build 16 townhouses on the site priced from $189,000 to $215,000 apiece. Developers hope the units will attract young professionals, retirees, empty nesters and faculty and staff from Winthrop University.

Employees working at the newly renovated Cotton Factory on White Street will be one target group. Williams & Fudge, the college loan collection agency that anchors the building and occupies the whole second floor, will have 200 employees, and other retailers will occupy the ground floor.

A formal plan for the townhouse project will go before the City Council in the next two months, and construction could start n the spring.

The city lost money in the sale of the site. Michael LaCount of Columbia and Will Batson of Charlotte, the only developers to show interest in the site, paid only $130,000 for it.

Nonetheless, the two developers won't ask for public money or other help from the city on the project. It will be downtown's first privately funded project in recent years. Furthermore, the project is likely to be a complement to the stately older homes in the neighborhood and a significant boon for downtown commerce.

Downtown Rock Hill needs permanent residents, not just people who come downtown for the occasional meal or shopping trip but those who live there, work there and spend leisure time there. And new residents have a multiplier effect; more people attract more businesses, which, in turn, attract more foot traffic to downtown.

City officials have talked about a tipping point when downtown Rock Hill will really take off as a commercial and residential center. This project undoubtedly will help tip the scales in that direction.