Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Council Members Say Racism Motivated Beale Street Vote

Posted By on Tue, Jan 17, 2017 at 12:56 PM

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Some Memphis City Council members said a company was cheated out of a contract to manage Beale Street because the company’s leadership is mainly African American.

The Beale Street Tourism Development Authority was organized by a council vote in 2015 to pick a permanent manager for the entertainment district. The Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) was charged with managing the street on a temporary basis on January 2014 until the authority picked a new permanent manager.

The authority sent out requests for proposals from firms across the country. Several responded and were eliminated in the process. The last firm remaining in contention for the contract was the local company, 21 Beale Street Inc. But authority members voted against choosing the firm and, instead, voted to allow the DMC to continue managing the street.

Council members and some elected state leaders said Tuesday, during the council’s Economic Development, and Tourism committee, that 21 Beale did not get the contract because its leaders are black.

“This is plain old, plain old, plain old racism,” said council member Joe Brown. “It’s simple. This is what this is all about.”

Casey Shannon, legal counsel for the authority, said authority members were concerned that 21 Beale had little experience managing multiple leases, like there are with Beale Street tenants, and gave examples of situations that posed “red flags” for the authority.

“I can understand everybody’s frustration. But there was not one iota of racism, or prejudice, or discrimination of 21 Beale or any other groups,” Shannon said. “It was an African American member of the board who suggested that we end discussion with (21 Beale)."

However, charges of racial discrimination were echoed by council member Janis Fullilove.

“There’s a hidden agenda with you guys. There’s something sinister underlying why you’ve done what you’ve done,” Fullilove said. “I’m not going sit back and let you do it anymore.”

Council members questioned whether or not they could remove the Beale Street Tourism Authority. Agreed that they could, many members seem to want to go that route.

“The city council and the (Shelby County Commission) have ceded a lot of authority [to the Beale board] that should rest with elected officials, not to outside individuals, organization of boards not accountable to the taxpayers of Memphis,” council member Martavius Jones said. “I’d like to see some of that authority we’re delegated reeled back in.”

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