VOL. 126 | NO. 92 | Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Festival Relocation to Impact Local Businesses
MICHAEL WADDELL | Special to The Daily News
When historic flooding forced a venue change for Memphis in May’s 34th annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, Downtown and Midtown businesses began bracing to make the best of the sudden switch.
The barbecue festival will now be held Thursday through Saturday at Tiger Lane on the Mid-South Fairgrounds outside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium instead of its usual spot in Downtown’s Tom Lee Park, now under water.
Paul Morris, president of the Center City Commission, sees plenty of good coming out of a disastrous situation, even as Downtown sees thousands of visitors shift to Midtown.
“From an economic impact standpoint, Downtown is losing the festival but gaining a huge influx people to witness this 100-year spectacle,” said Morris. “The river being this high is really something to see, and we encourage everyone to come out and witness the mighty Mississippi at the mightiest it is likely to ever be during our lifetimes. We will miss having the barbecue fest down here, but Memphis in May certainly made the right decision. Any large-scale event like the barbecue fest is good for Memphis, so it is good for Downtown.”
Meanwhile, popular hotspots near the fairgrounds like Celtic Crossing are gearing up for increased traffic throughout the week. Owner D.J. Naylor said he is beefing up his wait and bar staff for Wednesday through Saturday nights, and he upped his beer order for the week by a third.
“We anticipate an increase in late-night business after the barbecue fest shuts down. We will have our outdoor bar open every night, and we will probably increase our entertainment later in the week,” Naylor said. “The most important thing for us is it may attract new people to the area that don’t normally come here, and then hopefully they’ll come back.”
Tamara Cooke, executive director of the Cooper-Young Business Association, pointed out that the area has 16 restaurants and bars that have plenty of patio space to be filled. Cooper-Young includes a total of 187 businesses that hope to see increased traffic from the event.
“We’re excited in Cooper-Young to have all the barbecuers here,” said Cooke. “We expect to get quite a bit of overflow from the festival.”
Dick Hackett, CEO of the Children’s Museum of Memphis on the northeast corner of the fairgrounds, thinks the museum will experience decreased attendance during the five-day span, but he hopes to make up some of the lost revenue by offering festival parking.
Hackett compares it to days when college football games are held at the Liberty Bowl, days that effectively shut down museum business due to the area’s traffic congestion.
“But the barbecue contest is so much a part of the fabric of our city, we want to do everything we can do to support it,” Hackett said. “Hopefully enough people will park with us to offset some of the museum’s gate loss.”
The museum, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, will offer a fenced, secured parking lot that can accommodate more than 300 vehicles.
Hotelier Wayne Tabor, general manager at the Holiday Inn Select Downtown, does not expect the barbecue fest’s move to have as much impact on Downtown hotels as it might have on its restaurants, bars and other businesses.
“There aren’t many hotel options out near the fairgrounds by the Liberty Bowl,” said Tabor, who is also chairman of the Memphis Hotel & Lodging Association. “The barbecue event regularly fills up our hotel with corporate guests and competition team members. So far, we have not seen any measurable amount of cancellations, and we filled the few we have had immediately. So I really don’t see any major impact on our hotel.”
“PiggyBack” shuttles are scheduled to run from the five existing MATA bus stops Downtown to the barbecue fest Wednesday through Saturday.
The shuttle service is funded by Harrah’s Tunica in cooperation with the Memphis Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Memphis Hotel Association, Beale Street Merchants Association and Performa Entertainment.
Downtown restaurants and watering holes like South of Beale and The Majestic Grille expect to lose some business from the fest’s move, but they hope to pick up some from the huge influx of flood watchers and from barbecue fest attendees that will still be staying in Downtown hotels. And of course there’s the Memphis Grizzlies’ extended run through the postseason that has them playing the Oklahoma City Thunder at home Friday night in a pivotal Game 6 matchup.
“Barbecue Fest was the best weekend for us last year during Memphis in May,” said Brittany Whisenant, general manager of South of Beale restaurant. “We were also slammed this year during music fest, so this weekend will probably be a little slower than normal for us.”
Patrick Reilly, owner of The Majestic Grille on Main Street, will be competing in the barbecue contest and his restaurant remains one of its primary sponsors.
“The barbecue fest is good for the city in general, so it remains good for our business,” he said. “Business Downtown has been great lately anyway with the Grizzlies’ success and all of the events at The Orpheum and the FedExForum, so we’ll be fine.”