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VOL. 128 | NO. 2 | Thursday, January 3, 2013

Beale Nightspot Continues to Defy Easy Answers

By Bill Dries

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After a relatively quiet New Year’s Eve on Beale Street, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. told a prayer breakfast on New Year’s Day, “Beale Street will soon be behind us. … It’s going to be a safe Beale Street.”

Wharton’s remarks came just days after he vowed to keep Club Crave at Fourth and Beale streets closed as a public nuisance following a Christmas Eve shooting that killed one person and injured two others. Wharton also said he would seek to demolish the building that has housed nightspots under several names over the last decade that have had similar problems with violence. The nuisance action filed by the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office and pending in General Sessions Environmental Court is the second nuisance complaint against the building owner. The first was filed when the building was leased by different owners of what was then called Plush.

Condemnation of someone else’s property is easier said than done even when a building owner agrees.

But Wharton said Tuesday he is serious.

“If you are killing folks in a club in this town black, white, green, blue, brown, whatever, we are going to shut you down,” he told a cheering crowd. “There is no black life in this town. There is no white life. God made all life precious. And I am not going to tolerate any color line in terms of what we shut down when it is terrorizing our city.”

Wharton’s comments were, in part, a reaction to comments on his Facebook page. Several commenters said the building isn’t the problem. One said closing Crave would force its patrons “back into the neighborhoods we live in for house parties and bar-b-q’s and just general mischief gathering.”

“Address the problem of young, angry, Godless and heartless folks with weapons and short fuses and then the city could have nightlife to rival New Orleans & Miami,” the commenter added.

“If you are killing folks in a club in this town black, white, green, blue, brown, whatever, we are going to shut you down.”

–Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.

The building, built in 1975 according to the Shelby County Assessor, was originally a movie theater owned by boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Ali later sold his interest in the theater.

From there, it became a succession of nightclub and concert venues with one common denominator – George Miller.

Miller is listed on the property records. The property is owned by Beale Street Development Corp. even though it is outside the Beale Street Entertainment District boundaries that stop on the west side of Fourth.

The development corporation also owns the Old Daisy Theater, which is inside the boundaries of the three-block Beale Street district.

Miller was once the head of the Beale Street Development Corp. and at times over the years has claimed to still be the director of the nonprofit group created by the city of Memphis in the late 1970s.

The corporation was to be a middle man of sorts that would hold the lease on what is city property and then sublease it to what became Performa Entertainment, the company headed by John Elkington that has developed and managed the entertainment district since its reopening in 1983.

The development corporation was formed as an acknowledgement of concerns about preserving the history of the street as the center of black commerce and culture during the era of racial segregation by law in Memphis.

From the movie theater on the other side of the district’s western border, Miller has rented out the theater as a nightclub for decades.

Meanwhile, Randle Catron, the executive director of the Beale Street Development Corp., has been locked in a battle with the city and Performa for several years over the settlement of the bankruptcy case that puts the city of Memphis in direct control of the district.

During that time, Catron said he intended to establish daily tours of the district from the Old Daisy. But the tours have not materialized and it remains a rental property for parties and other events. It was an interpretive center briefly when the district opened in 1983.

The operation of an “interpretive center” focused on the history of the district is one of the duties of the development corporation outlined in the city’s lease with it and in turn with what became Performa.

Late last year, federal bankruptcy court Judge Jennie Latta ruled in favor of the city and Performa denying the development corporation’s contention that Performa owed it $6 million.

Some legal hoops remain to be settled in a Shelby County Chancery Court case. But the bankruptcy court ruling was an important step toward limiting the ability of the development corporation to block direct city control and the development corporation’s role in the future direction of the district post-Performa.

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