Harpootlian, merchants, neighbors launch efforts to clean up Five Points

A coalition of neighborhoods around Five Points and the Five Points Association of merchants announced Monday they are joining together to “restore” the urban village near the University of South Carolina.

The two groups plan to meet quarterly to discuss issues such as parking, enforcement of liquor laws, attracting more restaurants and retail stores, improving safety and making streets more pedestrian friendly, neighborhood leaders, merchants and others said at a press conference at the Five Points fountain..

The two groups will also invite the leadership of the city of Columbia and the University of South Carolina to join in their discussions, they said.

“We want this to return to the village I moved to 40 years ago,” said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, an attorney who has represented neighborhood residents challenging the liquor licenses of late-night bars that cater mainly to USC students — the source of the village’s decline, he said.

Harpootlian, a Democrat who lives in nearby Wales Garden, said that 85 percent of the students who drink in the late night bars are under-aged and cause havoc in nearby neighborhoods after closing time.

“This is not a playground for juveniles,” he said.

The challenges are based on a lack of food sales, something required by the state Constitution for an establishment to sell alcohol.

As a result of those challenges, four bars so far have closed or are closing — The Roost, Horseshoe and Cover 3 — and two others, Lucky’s and Rooftop Bar have agreed to operate under tighter standards. At least four additional bar locations are for sale.

The number of late night bars has dropped from a high of 19 to nine because of tighter controls enacted by City Council at the behest of the Coalition of Neighborhoods.

“The number of all-night bars has dropped significantly,” Harpootlian said, “and we have put bar owners on notice that non-compliance with laws and regulations will lead to a challenge of their liquor licenses.”

Harpootlian was joined at the podium by coalition president Kit Smith, Five Points Association president Tim Smith, new Five Points Association Executive Director Kelsey Desender, state Rep. Seth Rose and USC president Harris Pastides.

Rose said that a S.C. Department of Transportation traffic study on the possible narrowing of Harden Street to two lanes has revealed that the stretch is the deadliest in the state.

And Pastides addressed the tragic 2013 shooting of Martha Childress, which left her paralyzed, and more recently the abduction and murder of Samantha Josephson, both in Five Points, as “the darkest nights of my presidency.”

“This cannot happen again,” he said. “We need a safe Five Points.”

Despite the issues of safety and illegal liquor sales, speakers noted that the village is moving forward, such Home Team BBQ in the old Harper’s building and Gibson’s gift shop returning to Saluda Avenue.

“The Five Points Association sees the glass as half full,” Desender said.

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.