For more than a century, Five Points has been the heart of the city, a treasured shopping and entertainment district that provides Columbia with unique charm and character.
Now, however, Five Points is at a crossroads, in danger of becoming little more than a homogenized strip mall by day and public safety hazard by night, a place with limited commercial appeal, iffy prospects and a bad reputation. To prevent that and revitalize the district that is so important to the life of this city, what follows is a five-point plan — a vision — to ensure the village’s long-term success.
First, immediately repeal the Five Points overlay district and guidelines. These guidelines, adopted in 2006 and meant to preserve and enhance the district, have instead only stifled investment and failed to enhance the area to the point that over the past 13 years, all Five Points has to show for them are a Waffle House, Walgreens, Chick-fil-A and a bank branch. Once again, the city of Columbia has shown that you cannot regulate your way to prosperity.
Secondly, public safety has to be the top priority. Cameras are great at catching criminals after crimes have been committed but are far less effective at preventing crimes than are people in uniform. After the tragic shooting of a USC co-ed, I and another businessperson — at the request of former police chief Randy Scott — provided funding to the Columbia Police Department to purchase three of the finest police dogs in the world for the patrol units in Five Points. These assets were never deployed in Five Points and need to be.
Third, recruit a highly recognized retail store for one of the featured corners. Mayor Steve Benjamin should use his new clout as president of the National Conference of Mayors to make recruiting an Apple store to Five Points his top priority. It would be a huge victory and bring thousands of new customers to Five Points. Our economic developers and realtors need to target businesses like Biscuitville or Big Bad Breakfast that create daytime traffic and are closed in the evenings. The bottom line is if you want restaurants rather than bars, go recruit them and make it easy for them to open.
Fourth, we need a boutique hotel in Five Points to attract the elite guests who come to Columbia but now either stay downtown or in the Vista. I applaud Columbia City Councilman Daniel Rickenmann’s leadership in acquiring more than 300 new public parking places across from Home Team BBQ and at gaining a building ideally suited to a boutique hotel developer. Just imagine a rooftop bar looking up at USC and down on Five Points with a much-needed white tablecloth restaurant.
Finally, parking and appearance need to be addressed. Removing the restrictions in the overlay guidelines will allow business owners to upgrade their property without asking permission. With more parking now for employees, replace all meters with a modern parking system with a 2.5-hour limit, and let’s try closing Saluda Avenue on Friday and Saturday nights and see if, using our on-the-ground police approach with their pups, we can’t make Five Points a walkable, eclectic village at night where adults and families feel safe to dine.
With the right plan, Five Points can become our version of Charleston’s King Street or Greenville’s Main Street and once again be the pride of the city and a place where parents tell their children to meet them, not to avoid once the sun goes down.