The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to stop the Beale Street Bucks program – bringing an end to the controversial fee after years of debate.
The motion, proposed by council member Jamita Swearengen (District 4), came during a discussion about the cover charge to enter the Beale Street entertainment district. The program wasn’t sitting well with many.
“I keep saying it’s illegal to charge anyone public revenue to get on a public street,” council member Joe Brown (Super District 8, Pos. 1) said. “You just can’t do that.”
The program charged a $5 fee to enter the district. Previously, the fee was $10, and patrons would receive a $7 food and drink voucher to spend at Beale Street businesses. The cover charge was started as a crime deterrent and crowd-control method after a string of violent incidents, including two homicides, in the summer of 2016.
Since then, the fee has been in place on weekends during summer months and during specially designated days where crowd size was expected to be minimum.
“It’s illegal,” Brown said. “It’s immoral, and it’s an insult to the folks of the city of Memphis.That’s my piece, and I’m not going to get off of it. But I’ll make the first step. You take one, I’ll take one – you just can’t do that.
The program raised close to $500,000. There were concerns about where the money was going, and thousands of dollars still remained unaccounted for.
“I applaud them for making the right decision and doing the right thing for the citizens of Memphis,” Lucille Catron with the Beale Street Development Corporation said. “They deserve it.”
Catron filed federal lawsuits against the City of Memphis, The Beale Street Merchants Association and the Downtown Memphis Commission to end the program.
“This fee on Beale Street is detrimental to our brand. It’s not a look you wanted to go around the world,” Catron said.
Council members created a task force to analyze the effects of Beale Street Bucks. Factors included crime rate, crowd control and business traffic compared to other bus entertainment districts, such as New Orleans’ Bourbon.
“They (task force) said New Orleans laughed at us when we told them they charged folks to get on to Beale Street,” Catron said.
Since the council’s decision, Catron has dropped the lawsuits and told The New Tri-State Defender she hoped the experience “opened their eyes.”
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who touted the program’s progress and success, said he wasn’t happy with the council’s decision.
“The council’s decision… is disappointing and I believe it will put public safety at risk,” Strickland said.
The issue of crowd control on Beale Street remains. At the behest of council members Berlin Boyd (District 7), Edmund Ford Jr. (District 6) and Martavius Jones (Super District 8, Pos. 3), the city voted to explore hiring of a crowd control consultant with money raised from the Beale Street Bucks program.
“You’re going to pay someone for crowd control? Memphis Police are supposed to be in charge of crowd control,” Brown said.
A resolution approving the purchase is expected to be ready by the next council meeting.