New security and bright streetlights are part of an effort to improve safety at a Wilson Street nightclub with a history of violence, Rock Hill Police and the club's manager say.
Two men were hurt in a shooting outside the Odyssey club after a New Year's Eve event. It was one of nearly two-dozen incidents at the private establishment since August, according to police records.
City utility crews installed streetlights at the club's expense to allow for better visibility. A new security staff is cooperating with police to keep away troublemakers.
"It has improved some," Police Chief John Gregory told City Council members at a recent retreat. "We're watching it very, very closely."
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Manager Bironda Burris said streetlights around the parking lot make it easier to spot problems: "It's like a football field over here at night."
Club owner Lil Rivira declined repeated requests for comment.
The effort reflects a crime-fighting strategy in which Rock Hill Police work with utility officials to review maps of high-crime areas and identify spots where lighting is weak.
If police deem Odyssey a public nuisance, the city could shut down the club, but Gregory called it a step he'd like to avoid.
"We want to be fair to them," Gregory said. "As long as they're working with us, we try to give them the benefit of the doubt."
A storied history
During the 1970s and 1980s, the building was home to Starlight Lounge, a pool hall that served as a gathering spot for the Sunset Park neighborhood. People flocked to the Minute Grill and a Texaco station, all situated in a row along Wilson Street.
Starlight Lounge owner Fletcher McCrory took pride in keeping a good reputation, said Darryl Thompson, who took over the Minute Grill from his late grandfather, George Thompson.
"Fletcher always kept something going on over there," he said. "It was real nice. Everyone would go over there to play pool."
As the older generation faded and more homes in the neighborhood shifted from owner-occupied to rentals, drugs and violence took root in the area, said Marvin Brown, commander of the York County drug unit.
In 1993, police staged a drug crackdown along South Wilson Street in a nighttime operation that included state drug enforcement teams.
"SLED had a helicopter, and they hovered over the (building) with a big, bright light," Brown said. "We arrested 40 people on the spot. We just loaded them all up in vans."
Police respond to issues
Two decades later, officers are focusing on the Odyssey, situated a mile southwest of downtown.
Police have been called to the club 22 times since August, including five calls for disorderly conduct and four for assaults, police records show.
A spokesman said the figures do not include any calls elsewhere on the block that may have been spillover from the club.
A guest at Odyssey contacted police overnight Saturday to complain he was roughed up by five security guards after he was asked to leave. The man was ejected for being inside the women's restroom, according to an incident report.
The report did not specify what the man was doing in the restroom.
Security guards told police they used force on the 32-year-old man, described as an "unruly and intoxicated customer" who refused to leave, the report showed. Police took no action.
A Jan. 1 shooting injured two men in an area outside the club after the bar had closed at 2 a.m. Police arrested a 20-year-old Rock Hill man in connection with the shooting.
In October, police broke up a fight involving 50 people in an area outside the club. One person was arrested after a neighbor called to report gunshots.
No major injuries were reported, though one person told police a man shoved a woman's head through his car window.
Responding to the problems, Gregory said his officers worked with Odyssey and neighboring businesses to upgrade outdoor lighting and take other security measures that he declined to specify.
"They're all invested," Gregory said. "Everybody bought in and did their part, so far. As always, there's the potential for things to occur, but I think it's considerably safer."
The streetlights prompted a big change, said Naham Fadel, owner of Adams Grocery next door to the club.
"There's not people standing around," said Fadel. "It's very quiet right now. The lighting made a difference."
The club looks like a typical bar on the inside, with four pool tables and a jukebox in the corner. Wood-paneled walls are lined with mirrors and sports posters.
A red curtain backdrop on one wall offers a place for guests to pose for formal photos. Rules posted at the door tell men not to wear do-rags, tank tops and bandannas. Women are asked not to bring their pocketbooks.
Reflecting on the club's recent history, Burris, the club manager, said trouble tends to occur in the parking lot after the club closes.
"The building is never the problem," the manager said. "It's just the people who don't know how to act."