VOL. 132 | NO. 29 | Thursday, February 9, 2017
DMC Explores Long-Term Planning for Beale
By Bill Dries
The leader of the Downtown Memphis Commission wants to start working toward a long-term approach to day-to-day management of the Beale Street entertainment district.
That’s what DMC president Terence Patterson told Memphis City Council members Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the council’s second discussion in three weeks about Beale Street.
Council members continue to question the city’s arrangement for the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority to oversee the entertainment district and the DMC to continue managing it on a daily basis for the authority.
Patterson indicated that after three years of being the district’s interim manager, the DMC is taking a longer-term look at how to run the street and developing a plan for the next three years.
“We would like to reimagine the market strategy and reinvest nearly $200,000 to think about the new market approach,” he said. “We also would like to think about our capital improvement plan as a more comprehensive investment strategy, which would start with about $120,000 in 2017. “We also want to execute some operational decisions that quite frankly we held off on because we were the interim manager,” he added. “But given that we’ve evolved into a longer-term manager, we’d like to start thinking about some things, making actions that would yield higher margins as we look to the future.”
Council members are still questioning the authority’s decision to pass on a management contract with the 21 Beale Street group. The group of black business leaders from Memphis and Chicago emerged through two rounds of requests for proposals before the authority voted to end contract talks last year.
Council member Janis Fullilove was critical of the district’s direction and specifically its attention to Beale Street being a center of black culture and history from the 19th century to the mid-20th century.
She gave credit for an upcoming centennial celebration of blues composer W.C. Handy, marking the start of his music company.
“I was shocked, but I was elated about that,” Fullilove said. “When you talk about historical perspective, you are not getting it because black folk were there like it or not. We were there on Beale Street. … But I see nothing.”
The tourism development authority was approved by the city council in April 2015, before the current council began its term of office in January 2016 with six new members. So the complex agreement in which the city replaced the Beale Street Development Corp. with the new authority, following a three-way court settlement years in the making, is new to the current council.
The DMC has been running the city-owned district since January 2014 when Performa Entertainment, headed by developer John Elkington, exited that role as part of the settlement. But the DMC’s role was supposed to be on an interim basis. The authority’s first major assignment was hiring a permanent management firm.
Adding to the complexity is the claim by Beale Street Development Corp. director Lucille Catron that the development corporation continues to hold the master lease with the city.
“Everyone is confused,” Catron told council members Tuesday.
“The federal government stepped in because that’s who was watching our back,” she said of a group of black business leaders including her late husband, Randle Catron, who worked with the city in the 1970s to redevelop the district. “That is why we have a 52-year master lease. That is why it says in our contract how much we are to be paid. The city – you can’t dictate Beale Street Development Corp.”
The city’s position is that Randle Catron signed off on the settlement and that the district is city property, with the master lease transferred to the authority.
Lucille Catron contests that, saying her husband was critically ill at the time and couldn’t have agreed. She continues to contest the settlement as part of a pending federal court lawsuit against the city, the authority and the Beale Street Merchants Association that is also a civil rights case alleging racial discrimination in the street’s security measures.