Beale Street has seen its own share of the blues over the years, thanks to a long-standing feud between the street's former manager, Performa, and its lease-holder, the Beale Street Development Corporation (BSDC).
But it looks like management of the entertainment district might be entering a period of stability. The Beale Street Tourism Development Authority (BSTDA) is serving as the street's new manager, and the board is currently working on prioritizing the street's needs.
The board was created by Mayor A C Wharton's office and approved by the Memphis City Council in April. Made up of 13 Beale Street stakeholders, the new group has a lot of work ahead.
The control of Beale Street currently resides with the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC). The DMC has been serving as the interim managers of the street since January 1st, 2014, when they took over for the entertainment district's long-standing manager Performa Entertainment.
In 2012, the BSDC sued Performa, which had a lease/management deal with the city for more than 30 years, claiming the management company had violated the terms of its sublease. A judge ruled that Performa wasn't in default. But the following January, Performa filed for reorganization in bankruptcy court and agreed to assign its sublease back to the city.
The BSTDA cannot take over for the DMC until they have a lease, which must be approved by the city council. At the BSTDA meeting last week, the board voted to create a lease proposal to send to the city council. This will take some time to get approved, leaving Beale in a limbo period well into the fall.
However, the flux in management seems to be having little negative effect on the street itself.
"Our revenue is higher than our budget. Our expenses are lower than our budget. We are pulling in cash for the city for the first time ever on Beale Street, and we are fully leased up for the first time in decades," said Paul Morris, president of the DMC. "So, Beale Street is doing really well, which is an exciting moment to talk about the future."
The BSTDA's first goal is to find a new private management company for the street. The board is also looking at the possible expansion of the entertainment district's boundaries. Wharton has made it clear that he would like to see the attractions on Beale extend all the way to the river.
"We've got this great riverfront. We've got activities on the river, and then we have this void of land between the river and [the entertainment on the] street," said BSTDA Chairman Archie Willis III. "And then if you think about it, why not go to the next block? I think it could be a much larger entertainment district."
Morris, who has led the interim effort to manage the street for more than a year, said he's excited to see what having a new permanent board can do to improve the entertainment district.
"[I am] eager to see who might step up and how we might do this, [how we might] really bring Beale Street to the next level. Beale Street is such a powerful brand [known] around the world, and it's such a great reality, but it could be so much more," Morris said. "I think it's time to move to the next level, and interim management is not in the best interest of the street. We need to move forward with the long-term perspective to make Beale Street even greater than it already is."