COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Momentum to change the Five Points area in downtown Columbia continues building.
Two weeks ago we told you about a legal push spearheaded by State Senator Dick Harpootlian that has already led to led to the closure of several bars, that Harpootlian alleges were not abiding by the law.
Harpootlian says there has not been any new action against bars but adds when a license is up for renewal, they will review and challenge those licenses as needed.
On Monday, a plan for the future of Five Points was unveiled.
Community leaders are trying to add other types of businesses to the neighborhood, like more retail and restaurants that would replace bars, they say are operating unlawfully and feel bring an influx of drunken college students to the area. They are also hoping to end horrific events that happen on those late-nights like the alleged kidnapping and subsequent death of USC student Samantha Josephson.
Harpootlian said he was proud of the support being showed for “returning this village to what I saw when I moved here forty years ago.”
Since the 70s/80s, Columbia and the USC student population has grown substantially. We asked Harpootlian if it was realistic to believe that Five Points could revert to how it operated 40 years ago.
“We’re not going to get back to where it was, but we can have something new, something better and that’s what I want. I want a neighborhood village if you will, where people can shop, people can have that can legally do so have something to drink and something to eat. This should not be 2,000 kids drunk throwing up at 2 o’clock in the morning on that street right there,” Harpootlian said.
Harry, who owns Grilled Teriyaki on Harden Street, is not completely on board with the plan. He is concerned the plan will make Five Points less popular, contributing to less traffic and will ultimately hurt business.
“This bar is now vacant, this bar is going to be vacant. What businesses are we going to put there so that I can survive with my business? Business goes down 30-40 percent during the summer. So now you’re telling me the kids come back, they have no place to go to have a good time and now my business will suffer even more,” Harry said.
Harry also took issue with the plan to shut bars down.
“I don’t understand why the first thing to do is to close down the bars. We know the problem. We know there’s underage drinking. I don’t understand why we’re not smarter than these underage kids. How come we won’t have a SLED agent out in front of these clubs that the clubs have to pay to be there to check IDs.”
Harpootlian responded to both of those points saying he does not believe the plan will hurt business and that police are doing everything they can at this point.
Andy Shlon with Andy’s Deli who has been here for decades, says he is in favor of the plan, but hopes vacancies can be filled quickly and does not want the public to believe Five Points is not safe.
“It’s safer now than the 90s because of the presence of the police and the camera,” Shlon said.
Overall, it is a plan leaders like Kit Smith with the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods says is for the best.
“It’s the culture that we want to change and that doesn’t mean going back to horse and buggy days,” Smith said.
Aside from closing bars and adding new business, plans for the future of Five Points also include increasing parking, upgrading pedestrian safety and building complete streets.
“The DOT officials told us this was the most deadliest stretch of road in all of South Carolina and to me, that was really appalling,” State Representative Seth Rose said while pointing toward Harden Street near the Five Points Fountain.
“The complete streets concept adds bike lanes, increasing the usability of the centrally located blue bikes, enables efficiency for traffic while adding wider sidewalks for pedestrians and outside seating,” Five Points Association Executive Director Kelsey Desender said.
Five Points association President Tim Smith says, there are at least 3 businesses in talks to move into recently closed properties, but he would not give any more details.