While it’s hard to find a precise moment when Rock Hill’s Knowledge Park evolved from an idea to a reality, Monday’s ceremony to kick off the beginning of the construction process certainly qualifies as affirmation that the project will actually come to life.
Getting to this point has taken a long time. Many remember the former site of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. – commonly known as the Bleachery – not as largely empty space with one building and a smokestack, but as the city’s largest employer, a bustling mill that provided work for hundreds over many decades.
And many remember when the Bleachery shut its doors after vainly trying to hold on as textile operations closed in towns throughout the South. The property stood idle for many years, and in 2009 a fire set by arsonists reduced much of the old buildings to rubble.
With the city taking charge of the property and the cleanup of the site completed, planning inched forward. The city, York County and the Rock Hill school district, after a long negotiating process, reached an agreement to zone the property as a special tax district to help pay for the project.
A variety of development proposals were considered and rejected. The decision to enlist the help of a professional developer to oversee the project marked a turning point that finally got the ball rolling.
At the urging of a group of influential local businessmen, the city elected to hire Sora-Phelps – a partnership between Sora Development of Maryland and Phelps Development of Colorado – which had experience in a variety of similar projects, to develop a master plan and manage construction.
On Monday, Sora-Phelps will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at the Knowledge Park site following the final approval of a revised plan earlier this month by the Rock Hill City Council.
The plan encompasses 1.3 million square feet of recreational, living, entertainment, hotel and office space on the 23-acre site that stretches from the edge of the Winthrop University campus to near downtown. Once asbestos and lead paint are removed from the only remaining original structure – the Lowenstein Building – it will be renovated into 228,000 square feet of office space.
A late addition to the project was an indoor sports facility proposed by the city sports commission. The 164,000-square-foot facility will be placed near the Winthrop campus so student athletes will have easy access.
Other elements include senior living apartments, campus housing for Winthrop students, condos, a boutique hotel and space for shops and restaurants.
Knowledge Park will, of course, transform the heart of historic Rock Hill. It is likely to stimulate economic activity downtown and in the areas surrounding the former mill site.
But its impact is likely to reverberate well beyond downtown. Planners envision Knowledge Park as a magnet for new investment that will create jobs and greatly expand the mix of businesses in the city with an emphasis on high-tech enterprises.
This won’t happen overnight. Construction of the buildings and filling them up could take years.
But residents have waited years for work to begin, and we can wait a while longer as Knowledge Park takes shape. This might not be remembered as the exact moment that Knowledge Park officially sprang to life, but it’s close