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VOL. 129 | NO. 130 | Friday, July 4, 2014

Beale Street Eastern Border Marks Changes

By Bill Dries

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For much of the renovated Beale Street Entertainment District’s 30-year history, George Miller was a figure in exile just on the other side of the district’s formal eastern border of Fourth Street.

As Plush Club and Club Crave, the building at 380 Beale St. has also been the base of operations for George Miller, the one-time director of the Beale Street Development Corp. Miller died last month as plans surfaced for a new dance club at the building.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Miller’s involvement on Beale dated back to the opening of 380 Beale St. in 1975 as the Muhammad Ali Towne Two Cinema, a two-screen movie theater in which the heavyweight boxing legend was a part owner for a time.

From the theater, Miller jousted with elected leaders as the first executive director of the Beale Street Development Corp.

The nonprofit organization was supposed to be the cultural guardian of the renovation of the street that gave birth to the blues and was the center of commerce and entertainment for black Memphians when racial segregation was the law.

Miller was no rubber stamp and pushed for greater inclusion of African-Americans like himself in the business of bringing back Beale Street in the give and take with elected leaders, who were overwhelmingly white. His critics argued that Miller’s idea of black business inclusion meant keeping a generous portion of that business for himself and those he favored.

Meanwhile, he rented out the building at 380 Beale, first for individual events and then to a succession of nightclub owners, none of which lasted more than a few years. The last two leases, for Club Plush and Club Crave, ended with nuisance court orders in General Sessions Environmental Court in which police and prosecutors tallied arrests and calls for various offenses in and around the building.

As part of their agreement with authorities in the nuisance action, the partnership behind Club Crave vowed to never open another nightclub like it in any other location, or to even use the name as a promotion for a single night at an existing club.

When Crave was closed in December 2012 by court order, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. vowed that the city would see the property, owned by Miller at the time, demolished.

A year and a half later, the building hasn’t been used but is still standing.

Miller died Sunday, June 29, after a long illness during which the ownership of the building was changed to Miller Memphis Inc., listing 380 Beale as its mailing address.

He died as word leaked and was later confirmed that Steven Adelman, a nightclub developer known for projects in Hollywood and Singapore as well as for the recent Fly Lounge at FedExForum, has plans for the former Club Crave building.

“He’s very ambitious and he’s got a lot of enthusiasm for Memphis and Beale Street, and I think it could be something great,” said Downtown Memphis Commission president Paul Morris. The commission is running the district on a day-to-day interim basis for the city and with the assistance of various city divisions.

Morris is quick to point out the club would be a private deal between Adelman and Miller Memphis Inc. outside the boundaries of the district and not involving the city of Memphis.

“But because of that property’s history, we are going to remain extremely vigilant to watch what happens and make sure that it’s not a nuisance, and we don’t think it will be because of the plans that he’s proposed,” Morris said. “He’s proposing a complete redevelopment of the property and a type of use that we feel hopeful and confident won’t be associated with the kind of criminal nuisance that happened before.”

Adelman has co-founded and been involved with mega-dance clubs that feature DJs and sound systems like Plush and Crave – but on a much bigger scale than any of the multiple attempts at a club at 380 Beale.

The Avalon nightclub in Singapore was a two-level club of more than 12,000 square feet at Marina Bay Sands resort. It was one of two nightspots in the resort’s Crystal Pavilion, which has an entrance through an underwater tunnel. The pavilion floats in the bay.

Avalon Singapore opened in July 2011 and closed a little more than two years later, in a business where partners come and go and nightspots are continually rebranded.

Avalon Hollywood, its stateside predecessor, opened in October 2003 in The Palace, a Hollywood music hall and landmark that opened in 1927 and where the television program “Hollywood Palace” was broadcast from 1964 to 1970.

Adelman partnered with John Lyons and then left the partnership after several years. The Avalon has had a much longer run than its Singapore cousin, undergoing an overhaul of its sound system and LED screens earlier this year.

All of the clubs emphasize celebrities who have made it past the velvet ropes, famous DJs, special effects lighting, and expensive, state-of-the-art sound systems that are constantly being updated.

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