CIU-led revitalization efforts begin to take shape.

When Mark Smith visited Columbia International University to interview for a job as its president, his first impression of the surrounding area was that it could use some work.

"When I drove through the first time, even in the interview stage, I was concerned about the crime in the area, the look of the area, the lack of jobs in the area," he said.

Upon becoming the university's president in July 2017, Smith made improving the neighborhood surrounding the campus a top priority.

"I've tended to work in economically depressed areas my whole life," Smith said. "And if you go in and do something to start to lift them, the community will really engage."

In February, CIU continued those efforts by purchasing seven properties along the Monticello Road corridor to its campus with an eye toward area revitalization and development. Last week, the university announced an agreement with Jones Petroleum of Georgia to build a combination convenience store/Dairy Queen at the corner of Monticello Road and Peeples Street, where vacant buildings and a bar were removed earlier this year.

The DQ/gas station, which CIU said could create as many as 75 jobs, is expected to be completed in six to eight months after construction begins. A construction start date has not yet been set.

Across the street, CIU is spending $200,000 to renovate a building that will become a substation for the Richland County Sheriff's Department.

"Universities have a lot of resources that should be placed into the community," Smith said. "When I came here, there were a lot of spiritual resources that were being placed into the community, but I thought if we brought a more...

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