Carolina Panthers star, partner make plans for troubled Village at River’s Edge

jwilkinson@thestate.comJanuary 6, 2014 

Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson and Reginal Barner, a former chief executive of the Aiken Housing Authority, are the new owners of the troubled Village at River’s Edge housing development in north Columbia.

The partners on Monday received approval from the Columbia Planning Commission to reconfigure the project to include a community center and housing for the elderly in addition to 200 more single-family townhomes. The developers already have built 60 townhomes on the site along River Drive near the Broad River. The project still requires approval from Columbia City Council.

The Village at River’s Edge became notorious because the original developers are accused in federal court of various crimes stemming from the project.

Former developer Jonathon Pinson, 43, has been indicted on 51 counts, including money-laundering through shell corporations, bribes, kickbacks, racketeering, extortion and the use of public money and bank loans for illegal purposes. His partner Eric Robinson, 43, has been indicted on 11 counts.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin initially was a partner in the project before selling his interest to Pinson for $492,500, two days before Benjamin announced his run for mayor in 2009.

Barner, in his first public statements about the project, told The State that he and Johnson were aware of the past controversy surrounding the project but wanted to go forward to provide affordable housing.

“The project overall is a good project,” Barner said. “It ran into snags, but it’s a good project and we want to see it continued.”

Johnson, of Hawkinsville, Ga., is the highest paid Panther after signing the most lucrative contract in franchise history in 2011. The former University of Georgia player signed a six-year, $76 million contract with $32 million guaranteed, according to reports.

“One of the goals when he signed his contract was to really help facilitate affordable housing, and this is one of the things that (is) helping him reach his goal,” Barner said. “One goal is to help kids with their education and the other is to help develop affordable housing.”

The partners plan to complete the 28-acre development in two phases beginning this spring. The total cost of the project will be about $20 million, which will be financed by federal HUD-backed loan guarantees, bonds and tax credits.

One phase would consist of 200 townhomes at a cost of about $13 million to $14 million.

The other phase includes a 60,000- to 100,000-square-foot, multi-story apartment or condo facility marketed to the elderly. That project will cost about $5 million.

There also are plans for a community center, day care and playground.

The planning commission unanimously approved the modifications. The project will be considered by City Council in February.

The project originally had included single-family homes and condos, which would be sold.

Johnson and Barner, who retired as chief executive of the Aiken authority in 2008, know each other because Johnson dates Barner’s niece. He said the two talked about making a difference in the Carolinas after Johnson inked his franchise deal with the Panthers three years ago.

“This opportunity came along. I saw it. I read about it. I became aware of it. And I said this would be a great place for us to start,” Barner said. “It’s serving us right here in the two Carolinas. The Panthers are not only a North Carolina team but they are a South Carolina team, too.”

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