Five Points is at a crossroads.
The future of the eclectic urban village near the University of South Carolina depends on a few key decisions that need to be made now, detractors and supporters alike say.
Here are suggestions we’ve gleaned from numerous interviews with stakeholders.
Enforce the law
Neighbors and others argue that shoddy bars and underage drinking are the root of the problem in Five Points. And they add there are plenty of city and state regulations that cover the legal service and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The problem in Five Points is that bars masquerading as restaurants, extreme public drunkenness and underage drinking are tolerated and shouldn’t be, they say.
Here is what some of those interviewed said should happen:
▪ The S.C. Department of Revenue should audit all bars to determine if they are serving the correct amount of food to obtain and retain their liquor licenses.
▪ The State Law Enforcement Division should constantly monitor underage drinkers and the bars that serve them.
▪ The city of Columbia and University of South Carolina police departments should arrest and prosecute extreme public drunkenness, vandalism, public urination and all other unacceptable behavior.
▪ USC should find a way to take more responsibility for its students’ off-campus behavior. Maybe that’s by putting campus police officers in Five Points on weekend nights. Maybe it’s by ramping up consequences for students caught in the wrong. Maybe it’s by stemming the growth of the 30,000-plus student body.
Build a parking garage
Business owners for decades have argued there isn’t enough parking in Five Points.
Thirty years ago, a spike in restaurants began soaking up the spaces at midday and in the evenings, driving some retailers off. In the past decades, many of those restaurants have closed because the parking won’t support them.
That opened the door for more late-night bars that require no daytime parking and, in the age of Uber, very little at night.
Build a parking garage, supporters say, and building owners will have the option to recruit more desirable businesses.
The most recent effort to do so was a decade ago, when a developer planned to replace the old Kenny’s Auto at the corner of Blossom Street and Saluda Avenue with a multistory building including Walgreens, high-end housing units and a parking deck. But some neighbors and city leaders balked at the mass and height of the planned structure, and the parking deck and housing plan was scrapped.
There haven’t been any serious moves to put a parking garage in Five Points since then.
“I cannot identify one good reason why we don’t have a parking garage,” said Amy Beth Franks, director of the Five Points Association.
Bring back happy hour
Establishments that stay open late but still have happy hour – like Bar None and Group Therapy – prove that you can be successful and not just sell as much booze as possible to students from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., Five Points boosters say.
But how do you get a bar owner to open early? Incentives? Require it by law?
The answers don’t come easy.
But Five Points suffers from dead zones during the day, particularly on Harden Street – the village’s longest and most visible thoroughfare. The sidewalks along Harden are mostly empty during the day, and what should be a positive street vibe becomes a desolate downer.
A thriving happy hour would fill in those gaps, funnel customers into nearby businesses and generate buzz (no pun intended).
Better fund the Five Points Association
The Five Points Association is the de facto force behind the urban village. But in reality, it is a toothless tiger, made up of volunteer business members.
The sole source of income for the district is the St. Patrick’s Day festival – one of Columbia’s largest paid events each year.
The association staff consists of only a director, an assistant and a social media manager, most of whose time is spent planning the St. Patrick’s Day festival and other events intended to bring people and shoppers into the village. And they also keep the storm drains cleaned and the twinkle lights shining in the trees.
That doesn’t leave much time for interacting with business owners, dealing with the media, interfacing with neighborhood groups, recruiting and retaining businesses and lobbying city government.
By comparison, the Main Street District has six staff members, including a person overseeing marketing and a person overseeing business recruitment.
Like the Main Street District, the Five Points Association could explore forming a business improvement district with a voluntary tax overlay that would fund more staff and improvements.
Visit Five Points
“I haven’t been there in years. I heard it’s dangerous.” It was a phrase that was repeated again and again.
Things do get rowdy in Five Points late at night, but name a bar district anywhere that doesn’t, many of those interviewed noted.
That was the point of this special report. Five Points is a very different place during the day than at night. During the day, it is the eclectic village it’s always been.
You can buy hemp clothing, or a tuba, a tuxedo or a $3,000 watch. You can sit outside at The Gourmet Shop with a croissant and prosecco, or sit in Speakeasy with a martini and a jazz combo.
There’s always shrimp and grits at Yesterday’s, a sandwich at Groucho’s and trendy dresses at Twig.
You can get your shoes fixed, your hair done, adjust you portfolio or file you taxes.
Don’t buy into the perception, the villagers say. See for yourself.
About this series
Five Points’ Identity Crisis examines the challenges confronting the urban village next to the University of South Carolina campus. Some fear a growing number of college bars threatens the character of the community. Look for stories daily in The State through Wednesday and at thestate.com.
Saturday: Five Points at a crossroads
Sunday: Lust, long lines and liquor towers: How Five Points lights up after dark. Plus, how easy is it for underage students to get a fake ID card?
Monday: How dangerous is Five Points?
Tuesday: The urban village has a wide range of businesses, from record stores to swanky restaurants. Is that changing?
Today: Five things that must change in Five Points