Cindi Ross Scoppe

Did Five Points’ neighbors create the monster they now seek to slay?

Experience the drunken party scene in Columbia’s Five Points

Each weekend, thousands of people crowd the bars in Five Points looking for a fun and wild night.
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Each weekend, thousands of people crowd the bars in Five Points looking for a fun and wild night.

THE PROBLEM with Five Points isn’t that you’re in danger of getting shot there. At least in no more danger than anywhere else where a few thousand kids are packed together. Especially well-lubricated kids, out long after midnight. Two shootingsin more than four years do not a war zone make.

But packing in well-lubricated kids after midnight does cause other problems, some easy to solve, some not so much.

Five Points has always been a bar district. But more bars and more people have made it much more of one. And while I feel compelled to remind the neighbors that they knew they were buying their pricy homes near a bar district, that’s not my biggest message for them. Which we’ll get to in a moment.

Those neighbors are absolutely right when they say we should close the bars at 2 a.m. No, that won’t make everybody stop drinking at 2. But it’ll move their drinking back to houses and apartments and dorms, where they should be less susceptible to the dangers that are inherent to being out on the streets, inebriated, at 5 in the morning.

The South Carolina standard is 2 a.m., and there ought to be a good reason to deviate from that. Encouraging kids to keep drinking until 5 — many too young to drink legally — is not a good reason. If there’s enough demand for all-night bars for grown-up night owls, why not try allowing, say, one every mile?

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Cindi Ross Scoppe

__________

9 blocks, 23 bars: Five Points is drowning in a sea of alcohol

They were revelers once and young

Alcohol’s toll on our neighborhood, kids’ lives

Why would Columbia outlaw social hour for nightowls?

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The neighbors are also right to say state alcohol laws need to be enforced — particularly the one that requires businesses that serve liquor to be engaged “primarily and substantially” in the preparation and serving of meals. If the state doesn’t have the resources to enforce the law, we need to come up with a way to let city police enforce it. That one change would probably do more than anything else to cut down on the proliferation of bars, and inebriation.

But those same neighbors seem determined to return Five Points to what it used to be — or their romanticized vision of what it used to be. What we need, they say, is more upscale restaurants, and more quaint boutiques and other locally owned retail. And wouldn’t that be cool? Indeed, wouldn’t it be cool to have that in every part of town?

Wouldn’t it be cool, for that matter, to go back to the days when people bought stuff in stores in our community — stores that hire our neighbors and pay our taxes to help fund our schools and other community services — instead of online?

2008 might have been the pivotal moment for Five Points — and the moment the village pivoted the wrong way.

Some things are beyond our control. Others are now beyond our control, but once were not. Which calls to mind the Chinese wisdom about being careful what you wish for, lest you get it.

I had an ah-ha moment when I read in our news department’s series on Five Points’ Identity Crisis the village needs more upscale restaurants and shops. But as reporter Jeff Wilkinson explained, that’s not easy: “Restaurants are a high-volume business that requires at least two waves of customers each day — lunch and dinner .… Without adequate parking, they can’t attract those customers and have to close, or morph the business into more of a bar. With more restaurants and no new parking, some restaurants closed or morphed into bars, which require very little daytime parking.”

April Lucas, of University Hill neighborhood, and Olufemi Olulenu, of Martin Luther King neighborhood, voice their concerns over Five Points growth and impact in the area.

Parking clearly isn’t a panacea; the old Harper’s location includes a fine parking lot, and still the best offer we’ve seen is a Zaxby’s with a drive-thru, which the neighbors chased off. But parking, just as clearly, is a factor. And as I read about that daytime-business death spiral, I thought back to 2008, which might have been the pivotal moment for Five Points — and the moment the village pivoted the wrong way.

It probably wasn’t a perfect fit, but it certainly was better than what we ended up with.

In 2008, Five Points was going through an early spiral, with restaurants flooding in, eating up all the parking and chasing out the retail. City leaders realized the mix could quickly slide from too many restaurants to too many bars and started looking for ways to counter this. (This was before they decided to issue the all-night bar permits and just lay back and enjoy it.)

And as they were coming to terms with the need for parking, there appeared a proposal for a mixed-use project with a bank, drugstore and shop on the first floor, three stories of city-subsidized public parking and two floors of luxury condos.

It probably wasn’t a perfect fit, but it certainly was better than what we ended up with. Which is a reminder of why we need to anticipate the potential unanticipated consequences. Because there will be some. Always. Always.

As the years passed, the neighbors were left trying to figure out went wrong.

As Mr. Wilkinson wrote at the time: “Neighborhood leaders, particularly those in adjacent Wales Garden, opposed the six-story height, saying it didn’t conform with the mostly two-story urban village near the University of South Carolina.”

The developers redesigned the building twice, once with input from an architect picked by the neighbors and merchants. And when the neighbors rejected the third iteration, the developers gave up and built the Walgreens. The parking garage never materialized.

And as the years passed, the neighbors were left trying to figure out went wrong, as restaurants gave way naturally to the bars, which are able to share parking spaces with the remaining retail, since they don’t open for business until hours after the shop owners have gone home for the day.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.

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