CITY COUNCIL

Columbia council members favor adding ‘yellow shirts’ to Vista area

jmonk@thestate.comJanuary 14, 2014 

COLUMBIA, SC “Yellow shirts” – city-funded “clean and safe” personnel who wear yellow shirts and who are a highly visible presence – may be increased in Columbia’s Vista area downtown.

Tuesday, at an informal work session, three City Council members said they favored giving $250,000 or so to the Vista Guild – a group of Vista businesses – which would in turn give the money to the City Center Partnership, which would then hire six new “yellow shirts” for the Vista.

Eleven “yellow shirts” working with the City Center Partnership now walk the Main Street downtown corridor area from Gervais Street at the State House to Elmwood Avenue. They are unarmed but equipped with radios to summon police if they need to. They also pick up and sweep rubbish and are trained to answer questions from tourists about the downtown area.

The Vista area is west of Assembly Street, which is the current “yellow shirt” boundary. Expanding to the Vista would be a natural expansion of the program, said Matt Kennell, president of City Center Partnership.

Kennell, who spoke at the meeting, also said that when a new privately owned, high-rise dormitory expected to draw University of South Carolina students opens later this year on Main Street, additional throngs of people will be downtown at night.

“That’s 850 students and more nighttime activity,” Kennell said.

After the meeting, Kennell also pointed out that yet another new building expected to draw crowds to the Vista area – the USC Alumni Center across from the city Convention Center on Senate Street – will soon be under construction. That will create even more of a demand for yellow shirts in the Vista, he said.

The yellow shirts, who have been in Columbia for 11 years, are not police officers. But being visible and informed, they act as “goodwill ambassadors,” adding to a feeling of safety in downtown Columbia, said council member Brian DeQuincey Newman, who supports expanding the program.

Additional funding will be discussed during this spring’s budget talks and possibly be part of next year’s budget.

IN OTHER NEWS

City Council members also:

•  Directed city manager Teresa Wilson to formulate a “no increase” general fund budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Raises could be given, but department heads would have to set priorities.

•  Discussed possibly outsourcing, wholly or in part, the city’s animal shelter operations and information technology department.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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