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VOL. 132 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 9, 2017

Memphis City Council Ends Beale Cover, Taps Consultant

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members voted Tuesday, Nov. 7, to spend $50,000 for a crowd-control consultant for the Beale Street entertainment district and to end the cover charge for entry into the district Saturday nights after 10 p.m. during the spring and summer.

The consultant to be hired by the Beale Street Task Force will be paid for from the revenue the city has made from the cover charge, both the Beale Street Bucks $10 charge that came with $8 worth of coupons to Beale Street businesses, and a reduced $5 cover charge.

The cover charge has been used by merchants on the street and Memphis police as a crowd-control measure. 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 Memphis City Council voted to end a Beale Street cover charge and fund the hiring of a crowd-control consultant for the Beale Street Task Force. (Daily News File/Houston Cofield)

The Downtown Memphis Commission, which manages the district for the city, will field offers and applications from consultants until Dec. 15. The task force will hire the consultant.

The task force, led by council chairman Berlin Boyd, includes Beale Street merchants, police brass, DMC leaders and tourism and hospitality industry leaders. It was to make recommendations in October on some kind of cover charge for the district, but critics of having any cover charge emerged.

During deliberations, former DMC president Paul Morris pointed out that Beale Street merchants are contractually responsible for paying private security costs on the street itself and at their businesses.

Council member Jamita Swearengen, who called for doing away with the cover charge before, renewed her call Tuesday.

Council member Philip Spinosa said having no cover charge would make any crowd-control study “a complete waste of $50,000.”

Council member Martavius Jones said the consultant would not see a true representation of crowds in the district if there was a cover charge.

“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.

In other business, 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 allow ranked-choice voting in single-member council district races.

The provision approved in a referendum in 2008 would take effect in the upcoming 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.

Election officials thought the touch-screen voting machines used in Shelby County could not accommodate such a voting method, but new Shelby County Elections Administrator Linda Phillips, who came on board last year, said the machines can accommodate RCV by repeating the list of candidates in a race three times across the ballot screen. Phillips said she and her staff are prepared 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 Memphis voters for final approval on the Nov. 6, 2018, ballot.

PROPERTY SALES 50 389 12,758
MORTGAGES 21 248 8,003
BUILDING PERMITS 295 813 29,934
BANKRUPTCIES 35 164 6,064