About four years ago Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols approached Bryant Barnes, president and CEO of Comporium, and asked what could be done with the old municipal parking lot near the companys downtown headquarters.
Echols sought Barnes because the city and Comporium owned most of the land near the parking lot. He also asked Barnes because of his familys long civic history and investment in Rock Hill and the fact that something needed to be done to the parking lot, which had become a downtown eyesore.
Echols, Barnes and the management at Comporium and the city brainstormed. They agreed the barely used parking lot was one of the last open spaces in downtown and needed to be preserved. Land around the parking lot was suitable for development, but it needed to be the right kind of development development that would bring people downtown and create jobs. It also had to be profitable for Comporium.
Tuesday, Echols and Barnes stood behind a podium at Comporiums downtown headquarters. The event had originally be slated outside, across the street on a vacant lot, but was moved inside because of the cold weather. The move inside didnt dampen the enthusiasm as Echols, Barnes and others announced that ideas born of their discussions would become a reality.
Barnes said that Comporium, with the expertise of the Warren Norman Co. and Leitner Construction Co., will build a four-story, 48,000-square-foot office building at the corner of East Main Street and Elizabeth Lane. Comporium is investing $9 million in the project. The building could house as many as 150 jobs.
Echols announced the city will turn the parking lot into a park that many hope will become a downtown destination. The city will invest about $5 million in the park.
This is more than an announcement of a construction project, Echols said. This is about community building. This is a transformational vision moving to reality.
Both projects are expected to start in April or May and take between a year and 18 months to complete.
Each project is dependent on the others success, said Echols and Barnes.
Barnes said Comporium could have constructed a building in downtown on its own. What convinced him to move forward with this project, though, was the planned park. It was the wow factor that he felt would make not only make the tentatively-named Professional Building at Old Town East marketable, but other properties near the park as well.
Echols said the park will be paid for by the increased property tax revenue generated by the new construction, the first commercial office space built in downtown in at least 35 years.
So on Tuesday, Barnes, Echols and other business and community leaders assembled for the announcement, taking time to talk about downtowns history, about downtowns future, but most of all, talk about something that was planned actually happening.
The Downtown East project was initially presented to the public in October 2010. At that time, the plans called for an office building, the park, a 100-room hotel, a mixed-use building with residences and commercial space and a civic center with a 500-seat theater.
Tuesdays announcement was officially phase one of the project.
Developer Warren Norman said he is talking with hotels about locating downtown.
Barnes said Comporiums role in future projects will be driven by the market. We have not committed money beyond this project, he said.
Bryant said he had his doubts that the project would happened. It was at tight fit to get a suitably sized office building on the lot at the corner of Main Street and Elizabeth Lane, the sites of the former King Funeral Home and the Hiers-Clarkson office building.
He said the citys decision to build a three-story, 210-space parking deck was critical as the new office building needed parking. The parking deck will be attached to the office building.
The parking deck can serve the office building during the day and other facilities near the park in the evening, such as the proposed civic center, he said.
Warren Norman said he has already leased 25 percent of the building and hopes to have it 50 percent leased when construction starts. He is negotiating with a bank to occupy the first floor.
The first tenant to sign a lease was the York County law firm of Morton & Gettys, which will be on the third floor.
Jim Morton said being a part of downtown is part of his familys culture. His father, Connie, started his newspaper career by selling The Evening Herald door-to-door downtown, Morton said. He later became the papers managing editor.
This town has a wonderful history and we want to bring back vitality to the downtown, Jim Morton said.
Morton said the park was a big part of the firms decision to move from its Oakland Avenue offices to downtown.
Downtown was once the place where everybody met, Morton said, We want to bring that back.