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VOL. 129 | NO. 23 | Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Beale Alterations Point to Possible Larger Changes

By Bill Dries

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As a brass band leading a lunch-hour parade on Beale Street last Friday passed Handy Park, a crew wearing the district’s new uniforms for maintenance workers were taking down the Performa Entertainment sign outlining the ground rules for the park area.

A recent lunch-hour parade on Beale Street is one of the latest signs of modest changes made in the entertainment district meant to get Memphians on the street more.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

It is one indication of modest changes made in the entertainment district since New Year’s Day, when the Downtown Memphis Commission began its interim role as Beale’s day-to-day manager with the city of Memphis.

In part, the Out to Lunch on Beale Street parade was an effort to get Memphians Downtown to make the district part of their lunch-hour plans. It was also Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. honoring Performa Entertainment founder John Elkington for his role as developer of the district for more than three decades.

“We didn’t have this many people in the park the whole first year,” Elkington said after the group of several dozen people paraded down Beale from Second Street to Fourth Street, then came back to the park between the entertainment district’s eastern and western boundaries.

The crowd was heavy with city division directors and others who play key roles in maintaining what the district has become and what is to come, in terms of the street’s permanent management and direction post-Performa.

By the spring, Wharton plans to have appointed “a very small working committee.”

“The decision as to how we make a decision will be made in 90 days,” Wharton added.

The decisions about Beale Street’s direction have many possibilities that might also represent changes in the Downtown Memphis Commission.

“Do we stay with Downtown Memphis Commission?” Wharton wondered aloud of a permanent role in the district for the commission. “Do we go to the Grizzlies or what do we do? Do we get a development authority created? There are any number of options.”

Downtown Memphis Commission President Paul Morris has had a crash course in the day-to-day operation of Beale Street since Wharton announced the commission’s interim role in December. That includes Hard Rock Cafe preparing to move to the Lansky Building on the northwest corner of Second and Beale from its current location at Hernando Street and Beale.

Morris has set an early goal of doing more to reintroduce Memphians to the district, which gets most of its business from tourists and other visitors.

“We won’t have a parade every Friday,” he said of the Out to Lunch on Beale effort. “But maybe we will every once in a while.”

But Morris doesn’t think the commission is the future of the next phase of Beale Street development, at least in determining and governing its direction.

“I do think ultimately it makes a lot more sense for the city to have a private-sector partner in developing and managing Beale Street because of the private sector’s ability to invest new capital and the entrepreneurial spirit that only the private sector can bring,” Morris said. “There could remain some role for DMC perhaps. It doesn’t mean we have to get completely out of it. But I think day-to-day management and signing new leases and recruiting new tenants, when that needs to happen, a quasi-government organization is not best-suited for that role.”

Meanwhile, Wharton’s personal opinion on Downtown redevelopment as a whole is leaning toward consolidating the various entities that play a role in that redevelopment.

Before it took on interim management of Beale, the Downtown Memphis Commission’s redevelopment role had already been expanded to overseeing the Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project, a predominantly federally and privately funded renovation of Main Street Memphis from Uptown to the South Main Historic Arts District as well as a pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the north side of the Harahan Bridge linking up with Broadway, the main street of West Memphis.

“Downtown is a very expansive phrase – word. … That’s one person speaking,” Wharton said. “Downtown is a mosaic. It has to fit together. You can’t say, ‘I’ve got this little piece of Downtown and some other entity has that little piece.’”

Wharton specifically mentioned riverfront development, which has been guided by the Riverfront Development Corp. since Wharton’s predecessor, Willie Herenton, was in office.

The private group that operates city parks on the riverfront, including Mud Island River Park and the soon-to-open Beale Street Landing, is negotiating a new contract and management plan with the city.

Whatever is negotiated or otherwise comes out of the negotiations goes to the City Council for approval in March – about the same time as the Beale working group should be before the council.

“It makes it so much easier for planning if you say that’s the Downtown entity and not say, ‘She has part of it and he has part of that,’” Wharton said of a single Downtown entity that might include the riverfront. “That’s Wharton’s view.”

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