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VOL. 125 | NO. 52 | Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Changing Landscape

New tenants, enhanced focus for Beale Street

JON W. SPARKS | Special to The Daily News

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Beale Street’s recent announcement that it is welcoming three tenants goes well beyond having a few cool new places to hang out.

It signals a milestone for the two-and-a-half block entertainment district.

“We’re as close to capacity as we’ve ever been,” said Ken Hall, spokesman for the Performa Entertainment Beale Street management company.

Increasing capacity has been the goal since Beale’s rebirth in 1982, and now the primarily nighttime entertainment area is moving into the sunshine with an increased emphasis on daytime attractions.

Two of the new tenants are familiar venues from around the corner: Ground Zero Blues Club is moving from Lt. Lee Avenue into the former Pat O’Brien’s at 310 Beale, aiming for an early April opening. Its former neighbor, Red Rooster, is its new neighbor now at 340 Beale.

Larger capacity and heavier foot traffic will provide “that little extra that makes a big difference,” Hall said.

The third is a new enterprise, Little Anthony’s Soul Food, and is remodeling 341-45 Beale to serve Southern cuisine and breakfast.

Breakfast on Beale isn’t new — Miss Polly’s Soul City Cafe has been there a couple of years — but never have early risers been of such interest to Beale Street.

Performa is encouraging daylight marketing to tour groups, conventioneers – and children.

“I recently did a tour with four busloads of high school students from Missouri,” Hall said. “They had breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is not usually open for breakfast, but for 150 kids, yes we certainly will.”

It’s becoming common to see school buses lined up near Beale, bringing youngsters on field trips. Elaine Turner’s Heritage Tours operates the W. C. Handy Historic House and provides walking tours of Beale.

“Beale Street is where the blues was born and W.C Handy was the father of the blues,” Turner said. “Young people can’t come at night, but in the day they get a perspective of why Beale Street is important to Memphis. They look, of course, at Handy and the blues, but also at how other genres and musicians developed.”

“Beale Street is where the blues was born and W.C Handy was the father of the blues. Young people can’t come at night, but in the day they get a perspective of why Beale Street is important to Memphis.”

– Elaine Turner, Beale Street tour operator

The Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame introduces students to new names while historical markers dotting the street reveal worlds in business and culture, such as Ida B. Wells, Robert Church and the Hunt-Phelan Home.

“Beale Street is inundated with history,” Turner said. “And you can spend hours talking about it.”

Hall said the district also presents a fine mini-convention center.

“You can take your group of 250 or 300 folks to a plenary session inside the Old Daisy or the New Daisy,” he said. “And there are five private dining rooms on top of King’s Palace and a nice big one above Rum Boogie.”

What else does a conference planner need?

“Try a PowerPoint presentation on the big screen at the Hard Rock Cafe,” Hall said. “And we have an outdoor amphitheater. You can do seminars and workshops, little conferences and conventions.”

That flexibility is among the reasons the new tenants made their moves.

The new Ground Zero will be two stories, said Natosha Huffstickler, general manager of the club.

“Now we have the option of private events upstairs while the normal crowd of locals and tourists are in the main dining room and listening to the band downstairs,” she said.

“With the bonus of the huge patio, we’re hoping to draw bigger crowds.”

In a shaky economy, Beale Street is adding tenants and seeking to expand activities throughout the day. How? Hall said the district is a popular “staycation” destination attracting local and regional visitors.

And if fewer folks come from the coasts, Beale Street still gets them from across the pond.

“We derive a great amount of business from the UK and Western Europe,” he said. “They’re ready to get some bargains.”

Hall said it’s a good time for Beale Street to move ahead into diverse markets.

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