Rock Hill, York County leaders team up to attract business

The Spanish company Tuboplast CTL Group recently considered building a plastic tube plant in York County. But the company decided instead to invest nearly $60 million to build its plant in nearby Gaston County, N.C.

This was an important lesson for county and Rock Hill officials, said Mark Farris, York County economic development director.

Farris announced this “lesson” to county and city economic development leaders Tuesday in a joint meeting.

He used this as an incentive for the county and city to consider having “speculative buildings” ready for prospective companies who might be interested in locating in the area.

“If we don’t have available space, we’ll never know if a company has been interested or not,” Farris said. “Companies are going to want to have shovel-ready projects.”

The York County Economic Development Board is looking into creating a 40,000-square-foot speculative building in the county, he said.

The city of Rock Hill is joining in, pointing to the former site of the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. as an area of interest. One of the remaining buildings at the site, known as the Bleachery, is the 200,000-square foot Lowenstein building.

Stephen Turner, Rock Hill economic development director, said the city hopes to have the Lowenstein building on the market by the end of 2012.

Turning the Bleachery site into an economic asset has been a city priority for years, especially since the city leaders visited Durham, N.C., last month on its annual retreat for ideas on redevelopment. They studied the American Tobacco District, former site of the American Tobacco Co., which has been turned into residential units, restaurants, businesses and retail.

Turner said city leaders are thankful to have so many people who are willing to follow this example and turn downtown Rock Hill into a similar success story.

While he said the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. is known for its industrial parks, such as Waterford Business Park and TechPark, it’s shifting its focus toward the Old Town area. He defined “Old Town” as downtown Rock Hill and areas within a 2-mile radius.

But he added that Old Town Rock Hill is not so much a geographic area as it is an idea.

The 16,800-square Woolworth building in downtown has been vacant since it closed in 1989. It is the only undeveloped space there, but plans involve demolishing it and constructing a five-story building with 30 to 40 residential units.

“We want jobs back in the center of Old Town Rock Hill,” Turner said.

Construction could begin as early as the end of next year.

Members of both city and county economic development groups agreed they should begin identifying more parcels that could be used to attract companies as well as working together in the future.

“What is good for Rock Hill is good for this county, and what is good for this county is good for Rock Hill,” said Andy Shene, RHEDC president and chairman.

More joint meetings are planned for January.

By Nicole E. Smith, Staff Reporter with The Herald