VOL. 132 | NO. 222 | Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Council Funds Beale Crowd Consultant, Abolishes $5 Cover
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members voted to fund hiring a crowd control consultant Tuesday, Nov. 7, for the Beale Street entertainment district. (Andrew J. Breig)
Memphis City Council members voted Tuesday, Nov. 7, to approve $50,000 in funding for a crowd control consultant for the Beale Street entertainment district and to end the $5 cover charge for entry into the district on spring and summer Saturday nights after 10 p.m.
The consultant to be hired by the Beale Street Task Force will be paid for from the revenue the city has made from the past spring and summer of the cover charge as well as the earlier use of a $10 cover charge that came with $8 worth of coupons or rebates to use in Beale Street businesses.
The cover charge has been used by merchants on the street and Memphis Police as a crowd control measure. The council cut the cover charge in half earlier this year. Some council members say it is racially discriminatory and sends the wrong message to visitors. Some of the merchants and police say it has helped make the district safer.
The Downtown Memphis Commission, which manages the district for the city under contract, will field offers and applications from consultants by a Dec. 15 deadline and the task force will do the hiring.
The task force, named and led by council chairman Berlin Boyd, includes Beale Street merchants, Memphis Police brass, DMC leaders and other tourism and hospitality industry leaders.
The task force had been prepared to make recommendations in October to keep some kind of cover charge for the district. But before the recommendations became formal the group balked as critics of any cover charge began to again call for no cover charge at all.
That followed a proposal to use some of the revenue from the cover charge to pay for security measures. It was about that time that former DMC president Paul Morris pointed out that under their leases, Beale Street merchants are responsible for paying any private security costs on the street itself as well as in their businesses.
Council member Jamita Swearengen who called for doing away with the cover charge before, renewed her call Tuesday and the amendment was approved by the council after a brief debate.
Council member Philip Spinosa argued that no cover charge would make any crowd control study “a complete waste of $50,000.”
Council member Martavius Jones countered that a cover charge would mean the consultant would not see a true representation of crowds in the district.
“We want as many people as possible there to be a part of it,” Jones said.
Interim DMC president Jennifer Oswalt said the study will probably still be underway in the spring when the cover charge is normally used for the district’s peak season.
The council approved on the first of three readings Tuesday an ordinance by council member Edmund Ford Jr. that calls for a repeal of the city charter provision that would carry out ranked-choice voting in single-member council district races. The provision approved in a referendum in 2008 would take effect in the 2019 city elections. It would replace a later runoff election between the top two contenders with an election-day ballot in which voters can rank multiple candidates on a single ballot by their preference for them. If no candidate gets a majority of the first place votes, the second and third preferences would be factored in until a candidate gets a majority of the ballots cast.
Carrying out the voting system was delayed because election officials at the time said the touch-screen voting machines used in Shelby County could not accommodate such a voting method.
Shortly after becoming Shelby County Elections Administrator last year, Linda Phillips said the touch-screen machines can accommodate RCV by repeating the list of candidates in a race three times across the ballot screen. With that, she said her staff would move to carry out the terms of the 2008 charter amendment starting with the 2019 Memphis elections.
If approved by the council, the proposed repeal of RCV would go to voters for final approval on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot in Memphis.
The council also re-elected Boyd as chairman of the body for 2018. He was elected to another one-year term without opposition. Council member Frank Colvett was elected vice-chairman over council member Janis Fullilove, who is currently vice chairman.
Fullilove left the meeting after the vote.
In other action, the council delayed a final vote on a set of amendments to the Unified Development Code that included a provision that allows citizens to report sign violations and take the matter to General Sessions Environmental Court independent of code enforcement officials. Representatives of sign companies complained that the broader provision would lead to more lawsuits and litigation over signage.
A vote on third and final reading of the ordinance was delayed to the Dec. 5 council session.
The council also delayed a vote on plans for an expansion of a Frayser dump site until Dec. 5. The public hearing and vote on the proposal by Memphis Wrecking Co. had been tentatively set for Nov. 21.
Council member Patrice Robinson sought the delay to get more information about the locations of similar landfills across the city, the dates those dumps are scheduled to close and what the city’s long-term policy is for such sites.
The council also delayed to Nov. 21 a vote on a used car lot at 3800 Riverdale Road after the project encountered some opposition on the council.
The council approved accepting $11 million from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s revolving loan fund for clean water projects. The funding goes to the first phase of five years of renovation work at the city’s T.E. Maxson Wastewater Treatment Facility in southwest Memphis that city leaders broke ground for last week.
The council appropriated another $6.9 million for work at the M.C Stiles Wastewater Treatment Facility in Frayser that sets the stage for a similar renovation. The work there includes structural repairs to a disinfection tank, a better security network including perimeter fencing and lighting as well as a new parking lot.
The council also approved $120,000 for the city to buy property east of Rodney Baber Park in Frayser as part of the park’s elevation above flood level and expansion.