Historic preservation projects are not only vital to preserving a community’s resources and reducing waste but also in preserving the community’s past and connecting it to its future.
The $22M Lowenstein Building revitalization is one of the first projects completed in the multi-phase development known as the University Center at Knowledge Park in Rock Hill, SC.
The Lowenstein Building was transformed from an abandoned manufacturing facility — home to the former Rock Hill Printing and Finishing originally — into approximately 238,000 SF of Class “A” office space. While the exterior closely resembles the original structure, the modern, tech-oriented interior targets investment from knowledge economy businesses as part of a concerted effort of developers and civic leaders to redefine Rock Hill’s future. The project honors Rock Hill’s rich history while demonstrating the ability of the community to adapt and thrive in changing economic times.
The development provides critical connections between Rock Hill’s downtown business district and Winthrop University. The Lowenstein Building’s focus on attracting business is just one part of a larger, $200M plan that incorporates civic, retail, residential, and university facilities.
The Vision of Revitalization
The 23-acre site stretches from Winthrop University through the textile corridor and to the southern tip of the downtown district. The previously abandoned site was damaged by a fire in 2009, leaving a dead zone in the heart of Rock Hill. The revitalized University Center at Knowledge Park will serve as the critical link between the university and the walkable urban district. Although Rock Hill’s downtown is undergoing considerable revitalization efforts, thanks in part to new businesses and residents coming to the area, it remained disconnected from one of the city’s biggest resources: Winthrop University.
While many of the buildings in the University Center at Knowledge Park district will be new construction, rehabilitating the Lowenstein Building and several existing structures was a key feature in establishing the aesthetic and tone of the development. They rooted the project in the rich history of Rock Hill’s textile era.
The Lowenstein Building is located adjacent to the next major building in the area: The Rock Hill Sports & Event Center. The two facilities help cement the developers’ goal of creating a thriving, walkable district that incorporates business, residential, civic engagement, and entertainment venues to create a catalyst for the continued growth of Rock Hill.
The Development Process
J.M. Cope has been involved on the site since 2013. The J.M. Cope team was able to provide valuable information to the architect and developer as design of the revitalization came to fruition. The City of Rock Hill applied to place the Lowenstein Building on the National Register of Historic Places, and the application was approved in 2015. The design and development plans were approved by the City in 2016.
Federal and state tax credits were granted as the property is on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a former textile mill. All 23 acres of the site are eligible for textile revitalization credits and Opportunity Zone funding. The Lowenstein Building falls under the Historic Tax Credit category.
The City applied for a $1.5M loan from the S.C. Brownfields Cleanup Revolving Fund, which primarily paid for the removal of asbestos and lead paint from the Lowenstein Building. The Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) supplied a 1% loan for a 10-year term, and it provided for a $200,000 forgiveness loan upon project completion.
Planning & Design
Prior to construction, multiple factors had to first be addressed. The team acquired the essential permits and addressed the asbestos found throughout the building, taking nine months for the abatement process to ensure that the building was clear for any future construction tasks.
The design of the Lowenstein Building renovation drew intentional focus to the new, modern entrance of the facility which represents the evolving economy in Rock Hill. The front entrance was an amendment to the original drawing which only showed the shell. This required demolition of the loading dock and construction of the heavy concrete structure. All upfits had to be submitted to the Historic Preservation Officers to make certain it would not alter the exterior shell or be seen from the exterior.
In order to maintain the Historic Tax Credit status, the team had many unique requirements to address during construction. One requirement was to keep all windows in their original condition; therefore, each frame was reconstructed along with 9,000 individual panes. During demolition, the team took extra care to preserve the original windows, calling on established relationships with local vendors to duplicate any that were damaged. By innovatively adapting the existing materials, J.M. Cope made the building energy efficient while still closely resembling its original appearance. The Historic Tax Credit requirements also stated that all exposed brick and concrete be maintained.
The designers maintained and repurposed many of the existing elements and features of the building, such as concrete columns, retaining the character and connection to the history and context of the building. High ceilings and open, expansive floor plans allow tenants flexibility to customize upfits to fit a variety of space and usage requirements.
The New Tenants
The Lowenstein Building currently hosts corporate offices, a restaurant, and a healthcare facility. There are approximately 80,000 SF available for lease.
The success in leasing space speaks both to the appeal of Rock Hill’s location and amenities, but also to the ambition of the University Center at Knowledge Park development. The adjacent building on the site —the Rock Hill Sports & Event Center—booked more than 40 events its first year open for business. A 3,000-seat venue, the Rock Hill Sports & Event Center draws visitors as well as businesses. With future projects that include market-rate, active adult, and student housing; restaurants; retail; and parking; employers can feel confident that the “live-work-play” model will be an asset to their recruitment of a talented workforce.
Lessons for the Future
The deliberate focus of the University Center at Knowledge Park development is the history of Rock Hill. Developers and community leaders hope that the site will help propel the city into the future through cultivation of the knowledge economy. In its prime, the former mill district had once employed 20% of Rock Hill’s residents. When the Rock Hill Printing & Finishing property closed, 5,000 textile mill jobs were lost, devastating many small communities in the region. Since closing, the mill had lain dormant with no prospects for the future. The Historic Tax Credits and Mill Tax Credits were instrumental in enticing developers to move forward in developing the property. The location is key in linking a revitalizing downtown district with Winthrop University, but might have remained overlooked without these important financial incentives.
Working with a site and facilities that have been abandoned for years was not without difficulty. Extensive unforeseen challenges arose—such as permitting issues and the misalignment of the building’s pre-existing concrete beams. These challenges were met head on and are lessons learned that our team will utilize on the next facility revitalization.
Since the Lowenstein Building Revitalization project, the J.M. Cope team has provided renovation and repair services on several other local historic buildings. Our most notable recent experience includes the revitalization of the 1939 Building Upfits at Knowledge Park and the renovation and addition to the City of Monroe Center Theatre. We understand the complex issues that can arise as we work to preserve these relics that represent our past. We continue collaborate with our clients and key stakeholders to navigate the process.
For more information about both our past and current client projects, visit https://jmcope.com/services/