Opinion

A boost for downtown

We hear often -- perhaps too often -- about the so-called tipping point in downtown Rock Hill at which activity will increase, businesses will flourish and new enterprises will flock to the historic core of the city. Repeated too many times, talk of the tipping point begins to sound more like a fairy tale than a realistic hope.

But plans for downtown development that have been floated in recent weeks offer more concrete reasons to believe that the elusive tipping point can be achieved, if not overnight, then at least in the foreseeable future.

Progress comes in increments. And the combination of new and existing businesses, restaurants, art galleries and other enterprises downtown already have spurred activity there considerably.

And moving up to the next level probably won't be the result of one big development but rather more incremental changes. However, one project proposed last week would rank as a major new impetus for downtown growth all by itself: A new main branch York County library on the property that's now the site of the Good Kia car dealership.

County officials announced that they were interested in buying the property, which sits just off Dave Lyle Boulevard. The County Council voted after a closed discussion to approve a contract for the more than four-acre property, with the contract contingent on changes the county has asked for.

County Manager Jim Baker hedged a bit, saying that while the property is viewed as a library site, it could be used for a downtown magnet school or some other purpose. He said it also could be a mixed-use development, perhaps involving a public-private partnership.

Nonetheless, progress toward a new public library building, which might also include space for another use, is heartening. It also would be a big shot in the arm for downtown development.

Also announced last week was a proposal to tear down the old Woolworth building on Main Street and put up a new multi-story building in its place. The building could include lower floor retail space and apartments above.

It also would be narrower than the Woolworth building to allow access to the large parking lot between Main and White streets. Opening up a pathway to more parking could be a significant, even transformative addition.

The proposal to the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp., which owns the Woolworth building, comes from Bryan Barwick of Charlotte-based Barwick and Associates. Barwick has an excellent track record in Rock Hill. He teamed with Gary Williams to restore The Cotton Factory on White Street and, before that, renovated the Citizens Bank building on Main Street. In each case, Barwick took pains to preserve the unique or historic features of the buildings.

Barwick said this project still is in the "conceptual stage," and he is not yet ready to fully commit to it. Again, though, the proposal seems promising, one more way to bring more people and economic activity downtown.

In addition to these proposals, city officials also recently proposed a major facelift for the city's amphitheater next to City Hall. Improvements could include risers to the terraced area for additional seating for up to 1,000; updating rails and lighting; and installing a permanent, covered stage.

Planners hope the changes would encourage more live music and entertainment downtown at what now is an underused site. It also could attract more foot traffic and business.

This project, too, still is in the conceptual stage. City officials said issues such as where to locate access points for ticketed events still must be worked out. Again, though, the idea shows promise of helping to boost downtown activity with a better venue for concerts, plays and other performing arts.

Altogether, these three projects could inject considerable vitality into the downtown area. They might even bring us close to that much anticipated tipping point.

IN SUMMARY

Three proposed projects could be shot in the arm for development of downtown Rock Hill.

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