USC wants 2 a.m. bar closure back on the table

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A controversial plan to combat underage drinking, crime, and bad behavior caused by excessive drinking in Columbia is still at least weeks away from any conclusion.

Tuesday, council members got feedback from the community about the current plan.

Months ago, Councilman Howard Duvall originally proposed pulling the special permits that allow about 20 city bars – most in Five Points – to stay open past 2 a.m. The idea turned into a lightning rod of controversy with strong opinions on both sides.

Weeks ago, a city committee led by Councilman Daniel Rickenmann took the 2 a.m. closure off the table and decided to propose a revised plan that would do other things. The new plan would mainly give police more tools to penalize and fine problematic bars.

Some of the Five Points neighbors believe the new plan is watered down and worthless.

"So this is lipstick on a pig. This is much ado about nothing," Dick Harpootlian, who lives near Five Points, said in the Tuesday hearing. "And Mr. Rickenmann, I know you've got friends that run bars, and I'm sure they have families and they need sustenance, but there are people – 280 kids went the emergency room last year with alcohol poisoning."

While Harpootlian and allies for closing bars at 2 a.m. combined to form half the room, the other half was comprised mostly of those against the earlier closure.

"Not all bars are created equal," Marty Dreesen, the owner of Bar None, said. "We don't have the same business plan. I don't cater to students. Others bars do. I don't know how you guys deal with that."

In the meeting, the University of South Carolina said it's against the current plan and wants the 2 a.m. closure back on the table.

Duvall, meanwhile, is also not satisfied with the current proposal and said he'll reintroduce the idea of a 2 a.m. closure in the coming weeks but is prepared to offer some concessions, if necessary.

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