Extending Dave Lyle Boulevard across the Catawba River and connecting it to U.S. 521 creates a tremendous opportunity for Rock Hill to tie itself to one of the fastest growing parts of this region, and therefore capture needed revenues, create new higher paying jobs and become the economic powerhouse it is destined to become.
According to the latest population projections, the greater Charlotte region will add an average of 65,000 residents a year over the next decade, with the strongest growth occurring to the north along I-85 and around Lake Norman and to south along Interstate 485. In fact, one of Charlotte's fastest growing suburbs is the Ballantyne area, which starts at the junction of I-485 and U.S. 521, and continues south into Lancaster County. Our projections show the Ballantyne area growing rapidly over the next decade and evolving into one of the Carolinas' largest employment centers.
Locally, Charlotte's growth already has provided enormous benefits to neighboring Fort Mill, as growth has spilled over the state line and created office and industrial parks, specialty retail, and higher-end housing. Lancaster County is now beginning to see significant spillover from Charlotte's Ballantyne area and stands to reap many of the same benefits. The question that now must be asked is: Does Rock Hill simply need to wait for this growth to come its way or does it need to be proactive?
We would argue the latter. The leaders of Rock Hill should seize the opportunity now and tap into Charlotte's economic growth in a planned and proactive manner.
Fort Mill and northern Lancaster County have the luxury of proximity to Charlotte and no natural boundaries. Growth will continue to roll into both areas. Without a new linkage road, however, growth probably will not jump the river into Rock Hill in a meaningful way for decades, if at all.
Region is growing
One way to remedy this situation would be to extend Dave Lyle Boulevard across the Catawba and into Lancaster County. The current proposal to do just that is a good one and comes at a time when housing still is reasonably strong and the greater Charlotte region is seeing rapid economic growth. And, to make matters even better, a large, well-capitalized developer has offered to fund the needed private share of the Dave Lyle expansion project, which is required to secure state and federal road dollars. The project should literally pay for itself by extending the retail area of York and Lancaster counties, and boosting sales tax revenues into the region, including Rock Hill.
I have read through the Trade Area Assessment and Community Economic Impact Analysis prepared by Buxton Company for the proposed Bowater development, and found it to be a fair assessment of the likely financial benefits if Dave Lyle Boulevard is extended into Lancaster County as well as if Bowater is developed as a comprehensive community. In fact, I thought the Buxton numbers were conservative, given how strong residential growth has been in south Charlotte during recent years. The project is expected to boost South Carolina sales tax receipts by $9.9 million a year once it is completed and the five-year projection, which includes the Bowater community, puts state sales tax receipts up by $19.8 million a year.
Finances are only one part of this. As a regional economist, I can see how this project would improve the makeup of Rock Hill's economy by strengthening its ties to Charlotte, and particularly a part of Charlotte that will likely boom for years to come. Bowater would bring a high-end residential community to Rock Hill, while protecting the shores of the river and providing useful green space for the entire community.
Bringing first-class residential development to Rock Hill will help attract more professional services and light industrial jobs. Commercial development tends to follow the rooftops. And, with the increased access that Bowater would provide via the funding it would create for the extension of Dave Lyle Boulevard, Rock Hill could attract significant high-end residential development, which in turn would increase the region's ability to attract more office, industrial and retail development - which would broaden the economic base and help create more higher paying jobs.
Moreover, since space is available in the Bowater Community to attract a corporate campus, something that Fort Mill and northern Lancaster County have had a great deal of success at recently, extending Dave Lyle Boulevard to U.S. 521 would help bring some new office development to Rock Hill. In addition, more offices would likely locate closer to I-77 and toward downtown Rock Hill, helping reinvigorate the local employment base.
From my vantage point, allowing the private funding from Bowater to help extend Dave Lyle Boulevard into Lancaster County is one of the savviest economic moves the city of Rock Hill could make today.
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