Dick Harpootlian July 2019

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian speaks July 8 during the announcement of a new collaboration between groups seeking improvement for Five Points, the longtime college nightlife district not far from downtown Columbia.

As Five Points, long a popular college nightlife district not far from the University of South Carolina and other colleges, continues to undergo something of an emerging culture shift, two groups have formalized a collaboration to move the village forward.

On July 8, the merchant-based Five Points Association and the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods — a group formed by leaders of 10 neighborhoods that surround the shopping and entertainment district — announced a formal agreement in which they will work together on a number of initiatives. The entities plan to meet quarterly, and to work with the city and USC to push for certain improvements in Five Points, including increased parking, more pedestrian-friendly streets, an enhanced level of business recruitment and more safety efforts.

"We value community and sense of place," says Kit Smith, the former Richland County Councilwoman and leader of the Coalition of Five Points Neighborhoods. "The people who live around Five Points like to walk here, bike here, bring their dogs down here, stroll their children here. We like to sit and have a cup of coffee, or a beer or a glass of wine or a drink with our dinner. We like all the aspects of Five Points and we want to see it get better."

The announcement of the collaboration between merchants and neighborhoods comes in the shadow of cultural upheaval in Five Points, brought on chiefly by the efforts of firebrand attorney and Democratic state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, who lives in the nearby Wales Garden neighborhood. The attorney has been something of a one-man wrecking crew in the last year-plus as he's sought to curb what he sees as bad behavior and a rampant culture of underage drinking in the district that's just down the hill from USC.

Harpootlian has chosen to fight college bars in court, challenging their liquor licenses at the state Department of Revenue. 

The S.C. Constitution says restaurants and bars must “engage primarily and substantially in the preparation and serving of meals” to receive a liquor license, and Harpootlian has argued that some bars in Five Points don't come anywhere close to meeting that threshold. Popular college watering holes The Roost and Cover 3 have closed or are planning to close, and The State reports that two others, The Horseshoe and The Barn, didn't apply for new liquor licenses earlier this year. 

At the July 8 announcement of the newly minted agreement between merchants and neighbors, Harpootlian was typically bombastic when asked if the efforts to shut down bars and shift the vibe of Five Points would have an adverse effect on a district long popular with university students.

"Should there be 2,000 kids at 1 a.m. roaming these streets, most of whom are under 21, most of whom are intoxicated?" Harpootlian said. "The answer is 'No.' Now, if that's what USC students want out of Five Points, they need to go somewhere else. ... The suits we've been involved in shutting establishments down here have shown us 85 percent of the kids that are being served here in many of these establishments are underage, and they are being overserved.

"Is that part of the college experience? I don't think so. And it is certainly not part of our neighborhood experience."

Harpootlian went on to say that, if people under 21 want to come to Five Points at night then they'd be better advised to "go to a pizza joint and have a Coca-Cola." He added that he would do "everything in [his] power" to stop bars from serving alcohol to those under 21.

Outgoing USC President Harris Pastides was among those who attended the July 8 news conference. He also advocated for a safer Five Points, and in doing so referenced Martha Childress, the USC student who was paralyzed when she was hit by a stray bullet in Five Points in 2013, and Samantha Josephson, the student who was allegedly abducted and killed earlier this year when she got into a car she mistakenly believed to be her Uber ride in the nightlife district.

"Two of my darkest days in the presidency were the nights that Martha Childress got shot and Samantha Josephson got abducted," Pastides said. "This cannot happen again. We need a safe Five Points. We need it to be a beautiful shopping, eating village, a place to hang out. St. Patrick's Day parades, color the fountain green during the daytime, and safe for everyone at night."

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