Modern "Mill Village" to showcase Rock Hill's character — The Charlotte Observer

ROCK HILL The developer ushering Rock Hill’s Bleachery property to its rebirth promised Monday that the old textile site – once the lifeblood of the city, providing jobs for thousands – won’t become “Anytown, USA,” under his plan to build a “Knowledge Park.”

Sora-Phelps’ plan includes several nods to the city’s historic textile industry, and developer Tim Elliott wants to restore a practical part of the Bleachery’s old glory – being an employment center. In a “master plan” for Knowledge Park unveiled at the Gettys Art Center, Elliott predicted that new high-tech companies would move to Rock Hill, offering at least 1,000 jobs.

At 23 acres, the old Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. land – commonly called the Bleachery – is Knowledge Park’s largest feature. Elliott said it would be home to 19 buildings under his development plan. He wants to attract restaurants, shops and businesses that need office space. He wants to build townhomes and apartments.

The new buildings eventually should net the area more than $2.8 million in property taxes, Elliott said. Over the next six years, Sora-Phelps plans to invest nearly $200 million into developing the Bleachery site and surrounding properties.

Rock Hill officials and many of the city’s private business leaders conceived Knowledge Park while searching for a way to revive the old textile corridor, which stretches from downtown to Winthrop University. Elliott’s firm – a partnership between Sora Development and Hensel-Phelps Construction – was chosen late last year to serve as the project’s master developer.

His task is like “matchmaking,” Elliott said Monday.

Elliott will work with Winthrop leaders to include in his development new student housing, a research and innovation “incubator” and a senior-living community tailored for those seeking learning opportunities tied to the university.

He will work with city officials to include in Knowledge Park a trolley for public transportation and public spaces such as parks and parking garages.

And he’ll tie together Winthrop’s and Rock Hill’s needs with new businesses that choose Knowledge Park.

“I’m trying to create a mill village,” Elliott said – a modern 1.3-million-square-foot mill village with unique attractions, set in an urban environment.

Elliott’s plans call for many features that Rock Hill leaders have long discussed for Knowledge Park – plenty of room for offices and businesses, walkable streets with “green” areas, a strong partnership with Winthrop, and a mix of retail and restaurant options with downtown residential space.

But Sora-Phelps added its own conceptual touches – a mixed-use building designed to allow a trolley to bring passengers inside; a textile history museum that pays homage to the Bleachery and Anderson Motor Co., which built cars in the 1910s and 1920s; and a pathway for cyclists and pedestrians decorated with ironworks from the still-standing boiler plant.

With all the pieces together, Elliott said, the plan for Knowledge Park will be “transformational” for Rock Hill. Development would take place over eight phases and take at least seven years finish.

The first project out of the gate would be the old Lowenstein Building. Williams & Fudge CEO Gary Williams and Skip Tuttle, co-owner of The Tuttle Co., would team up with Elliott to re-purpose the old textile buildings.

Plans for the Lowenstein Building could include using the space for the textile museum, a restaurant, offices, a trolley barn or depot, and a venue to attract sports tourism events such as competitive cheerleading or gymnastics.

While Elliott is in charge of the overall development, Williams said, his and Tuttle’s involvement would ensure that the Lowenstein projects fit in with Rock Hill’s culture and have the support of business leaders who back Knowledge Park.

“It’s important to have the local presence,” he said. “We know this town, we’ve invested in this town, and we care about this town.”

Though officials are looking at the Lowenstein redevelopment as the first major step toward building Knowledge Park, Williams said, he doesn’t feel pressure – he just sees this as an opportunity. Preserving the textile corridor’s history, he said, would be a guiding principle in the project.

Infusing history and Winthrop’s academic culture are two cornerstones of Elliott’s vision. Winthrop’s and Rock Hill’s futures are deeply connected, university President Jamie Comstock said Monday.

While Knowledge Park would be known as a high-tech jobs center, Elliott said, he plans to lean on Winthrop’s healthy visual and design academic programs, which are “producing great artists.”

Focusing on what makes Winthrop, Rock Hill and the old Bleachery site special is key, he said.

From being the employment center for Rock Hill’s automobile industry through the textile boom, the Bleachery site was prominent in the culture of the city and the people who live in it.

Now, Elliott is looking to revive the property “from textile to ‘techtile.’ ” Rock Hill, he said, “is the city that won’t ever give up – it’s tremendous.”

Threading that history through his development, Elliott said, will keep Knowledge Park from becoming “Anytown, USA.”

“I vow that will not happen here.”