It was shortly after 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 3, and Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris got an urgent message about a problem on Beale Street.
The Downtown Memphis Commission took over operational control of Beale Street Jan. 1. It’s the first time in more than three decades someone other than John Elkington has been in charge of the street.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
A tenant’s toilet had broken and Morris had to dispatch someone to make the necessary repairs.
“I got the right person to respond and we were onsite in 30 minutes,” said Morris. “That’s part of the job of property management.”
The DMC took operational control of Beale Street at midnight Jan. 1, the first time in more than three decades that someone other than John Elkington was in charge of the famed entertainment district.
“My team was here in force and ready to step in at midnight and did so,” Morris said.
A bankruptcy court approval of the long-awaited settlement of Elkington’s Performa Entertainment case paved the way for the DMC’s interim takeover of the district. The 2010 bankruptcy filing was part of Elkington’s negotiated exit plan from the district.
Morris said he’s been going through a crash-course on the day-to-day operations of Beale Street, one of the city’s top tourist and cultural destinations.
“I know a lot about Beale Street but at this point there’s more I don’t know than I do know,” Morris said. “It’s a big job. A 24-hour operation Beale Street is.”
The DMC wasn’t informed until early December that it would take temporary control of Beale Street.
“It was not automatic that within a month’s notice we could take over full operations of Beale Street without interruption or a major disaster,” Morris said. “We’re going to focus on making sure the street is run well and there’s continuity.”
To help with establishing that continuity in the district, the DMC has hired several long-time Performa employees. The DMC hired Al James to serve as property supervisor; Jon Shivers to oversee events, marketing and security; Dianne Glasper as office manager; Lew Winston to serve as night manager; and Cochae Powell and Maxie Hardy to handle property maintenance.
“You can’t just come in to a place like Beale Street and fire everybody,” Morris said.
The DMC took over during what is traditionally the slowest period on Beale Street, when activity drops along with the temperature, Right now, expenses are outpacing revenues, costs that the DMC is covering.
“As expenses come due we’ll pay them and be reimbursed from the rents we collect,” Morris said.
Elkington, who served as the developer of the district since before its opening in October 1983, said he was pleased with the status of the four-block strip of music clubs, restaurants and shops he turned over to the DMC shortly after his last New Year’s Eve celebration.
“I accomplished everything I wanted to on Beale Street,” he said. “Basically, it was time for new leadership and new people. This gives me the time and opportunity to really do different things.”
Elkington took over what was a dilapidated, boarded-up civic eyesore and turned it into one of the most famous entertainment districts in the country. In 2013, USA Today readers named Beale Street the country’s “Most Iconic Street,” beating out the likes of Bourbon Street in New Orleans and The Las Vegas Strip.
“How much better can you get than that?” Elkington said. “We’ve left Beale Street in good hands.”
The DMC will run Beale Street until the city comes up with a new, permanent management structure. A report by a 31-member Beale Street panel appointed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in 2010 made several recommendations for the future operation of Beale, including creating a DMC-like organization to oversee the district, hiring a private real estate company or a public-private partnership combining a civic board and private company.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the city and the stakeholders that a private partner with entrepreneurial spirit be brought in on a permanent basis,” Morris said.