A strategic planning committee on the future of the Beale Street entertainment district has recommended to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. a new nonprofit foundation to serve as the purveyor of the street’s culture and history.
The recommendations have been under wraps since a first draft was completed in late 2011 as the city and Beale Street Development Corp., the current nonprofit entity, and Performa Management have been resolving a bankruptcy lawsuit.
The lawsuit settlement is still not in its final form with some details to be worked out. But enough of the barriers to the next phase of the district’s renovation have been settled that Wharton felt comfortable in making the report public.
The bankruptcy was part of a settlement between the city of Memphis and Performa that included the terms for Performa’s exit from the district it managed and developed since before the reopening of the renovated entertainment district in 1983.
But Beale Street Development Corp. pursued a claim for $6 million against Performa with Federal Bankruptcy Judge Jennie Latta ruling last October that Performa didn’t owe. Latta specifically ruled that Performa was not in default of its lease with BSDC.
The group of citizens who put together the report released Monday, March 25, also recommends a new for-profit management company to oversee the district or a business improvement district for the area similar to the Downtown Memphis Commission.
After receiving the report during a presentation at A. Schwab, Wharton said he will take the report to the Memphis City Council for discussion.
At the outset, Wharton said he is leaning toward a private management firm with a shorter-term lease than the 50-year lease approved by city leader in 1982. Wharton stressed that his impressions at the outset are not his position on what should happen at this point. With that in mind, he said a five-year lease might be preferable with a management company.
He also said the preliminary game plan is for whatever revenue the city makes from the district should go back into the district for its improvement.
Wharton also said findings that tourists come to the street to see the history of the area and want to see more of that history will be balanced in the discussions to come about the kind of music featured on the street.
The street is known as the birthplace of modern blues. But some merchants have said attempts to feature nothing but the blues on the street should be balanced against the drawing power of the music versus other forms of music.
“New managers should be open minded about Beale Street’s appropriate role as an entertainment venue,” the report reads, “and about the music that is, or should be played on its stages.”
The report also calls for better connections to the surrounding Downtown area.