Five Points will begin its second century as a Columbia village neighborhood with a new addition, created in tribute to a hero.
Centennial Plaza will be unveiled on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) as the culmination of Five Points’ centennial year. Guests including Five Points merchants and local officials such as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin gathered Sept. 20 for a groundbreaking ceremony for the plaza at the intersection of Blossom Street and Congaree and Santee Avenues.
That leaves just 59 days for construction, but Five Points Association Executive Director Amy Beth Franks said that will be just enough. “We’ve got a short time frame, but we’ll be working day and night to make sure it’s finished and that it’s perfect in honor of our centennial.”
The plaza will contain a bronze statue of retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jack Van Loan. “Jack has meant so much to this community, to me personally, to our board of directors and merchants. He’s sort of what I consider to be the unofficial father of Five Points,” Franks said. “We’re not building the tribute because of anything he’s done in Five Points. We are doing this because Jack was a POW in Vietnam for six years, and this is the least that we can do to honor him and thank him for his sacrifice for our country.”
Van Loan was a pilot in Vietnam, and came to Columbia after retiring from the Air Force (having been stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter for a time). He served as president of the Five Points Association and continues to serve the community. “I came down here, and they took me in,” he said at the groundbreaking. “And I wasn’t easy to take in either.”
The City of Columbia, Richland County, the Columbia Development Corporation, the Rotary Club of Columbia, and TD Bank have helped make construction of the plaza possible. It will also include the third water feature in Five Points: South Carolina’s largest kugel ball, a seven-foot ball of granite supported by water. Visitors will be able to touch the ball.
The construction of the plaza also provides an opportunity to plant new canopy trees and flowers, enhancing the currently empty space. Additionally, the curb lines of Blossom Street, Santee Avenue and Congaree Avenue will be redesigned to slow traffic leading into the Wales Garden neighborhood and to provide better connectivity between neighboring residential communities and the Five Points business district.