Bleachery site plans shift to tech

No votes were taken at Monday’s work session but the Rock Hill City Council appeared ready to endorse a new economic development strategy designed to revitalize the Bleachery textile plan.

The strategy – to redevelop the former Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. into Knowledge Park – is designed to leverage technology to create jobs and to build a link between Winthrop University and downtown.

Monday’s talks were about keeping and bringing talent to Rock Hill while at the same time fulfilling some long-term needs such as giving Winthrop room to grow, as well as the possibility of a combined Winthrop-York County library.

Presenting the strategy Monday to the council was the Knowledge Park leadership group, 14 business and education leaders. Twelve members represent firms that have invested more than $173 million in downtown and created 750 new jobs.

In all, the group estimates there would be more than 5,500 technology-related jobs in the Knowledge Park, which would stretch from Winthrop to downtown. Winthrop, Williams & Fudge, Springs Creative, Start Marketing and Comporium are among the largest current employers with the park’s proposed boundaries.

Mayor Doug Echols said the proposals by the leadership group “seem doable. They are very visionary.”

Andy Shene of the leadership group, and chairman of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp., said the plan was drawn from council’s strategic goals, as well as number of previous studies.

Councilman Jim Reno said the Knowledge Park proposal helped him look at the Bleachery site in a broader context. He said much of the council work on Bleachery had been site specific.

“What you have done is help us pull out, look at the broader sense,” of what can happen, said Reno, adding he was glad to see ideas such as a joint Winthrop-York County library revisited.

Councilwoman Kathy Pender noted the group had presented the opportunities, but there also needed to be discussions of the barriers and challenges.

“I look forward to hearing that,” Pender said.

Lee Gardner, president and CEO of Family Trust Federal Credit Union, said it would be naive to think the group had answered all the questions. Gardner and other business leaders stressed that collaboration is key to moving the plan forward.

“Let’s have a sense of urgency – urgency with a disciplined approach,” Gardner said.

Anthony DiGiorgio, president of Winthrop University and a leadership group member, said the plan was essential to the growth of the university. Over the next three years, he said, the university will have a need for more dorms, as well as instructional space. He said the university could either expand toward Constitution Boulevard or toward downtown. He said the plan’s proposed trolley was essential in linking Winthrop with downtown.

Councilman Kevin Sutton asked DiGiorgio if the university would remain committed to the plan after his upcoming retirement. DiGiorgio said he has discussed the issue with the university trustees numerous times.

DiGiorgio also said after he retires following the 2012-2013 academic year, he will continue to advocate for the plan, possibly even with “more energy” than when he was president.

The leadership group is asking the council to endorse the strategy and to allow it to solicit development proposals for the Bleachery site.

The group timeline is to make developer recommendations to the City Council by August.

By Don Worthington, Staff Reporter with The Herald