Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Beale Street Cover Charge Returns

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 9:59 AM

click to enlarge Beale Street
  • Beale Street

After two shootings and two stampedes on or near Beale Street took place over the weekend, the Memphis City Council narrowly voted Tuesday to implement a temporary fee to enter the street.

The resolution to instate a $5 entrance fee was sponsored by Councilman Berlin Boyd and council Chair Kemp Conrad. The measure was approved with a 7-5 vote after a lengthy debate.

Boyd said the council members all needs to work together to figure out “how to police the crowd” and “mitigate possible litigation” that could result from incidents like the ones that occurred over the weekend.

“For the general public, I want you guys to know that this is temporary for the month of May,” Boyd said. “We will come back after the month of May because we need to help the MPD officers on Beale Street.”

Boyd said at the end of May the council needs to re-evaluate and have a “robust” discussion to come up with a permanent solution that doesn’t entail a fee.

Memphis Police Department director Michael Rallings said early on Sunday morning there was a shooting at Fourth and Gayoso followed by a stampede caused by false reports of gunshots. Sunday night, there was a second shooting at Fourth and Beale that led to another stampede.

Rallings said that a common suggestion is adding additional officers to patrol Beale Street, but added that might not be the solution. He said one of the weekend shootings happened right in front of officers who could not prevent it from occurring.

“We have plenty of security there,” Rallings said. “But it’s an issue of crowd control, trying to manage less people, and making the environment more safe.”

Boyd said that during one of the incidents on Sunday, the hired Beale Street security walked away instead of de-escalating the situation.

“That’s the reality that we’re dealing with a dangerous situation,” Boyd said. “We don’t want those coming down to Beale Street to be in harm’s way. I just want everyone to know how severe it was to cause us to do this.”

Councilwoman Cheyenne Johnson questioned how a $5 charge would work to reduce stampedes and other incidents from occurring on the street.

Rallings said the fee will help with crowd control, and that during his time with the department, the only solution that’s worked consistently to reduce the number of incidents on the street is Beale Street Bucks.

Jennifer Oswalt, president of the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) added that since 2014, there have been 24 stampedes on a non-charging night and one on a night when there was a charge.

click to enlarge Beale Street - BEALE STREET MERCHANTS ASSOCIATION
  • Beale Street Merchants Association
  • Beale Street

Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen also raised concerns about bringing the fee back, questioning the need for crowd control.

“We want a number of people to attend Beale Street,” Swearengen said. “We want individuals that come in for Beale Street Music Festival and other festivals to come on Beale Street…. You got to pay for parking, pay to get on Beale Street, pay for this, pay for that. That doesn’t make any sense.

"If police get out of their cars and stop eating and sleeping, we could control the crowd.”

Swearengen said she would not support the move and that the council was “shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Swearengen, along with council members Joe Brown, Patrice Robinson, Jones, and Johnson, voted against the fee. Council members Boyd, Conrad, Frank Colvett Jr., Worth Morgan, Reid Hedgepeth, Gerre Currie, and Ford Canale supported it.

The fee will be in place on the remaining Saturdays in May, as well as a handful of other days that officials expect large crowds. Conrad said 100 percent of the proceeds from the cover charge will go toward security on the street.

An entrance fee is one of the 24 recommendations made by the crowd control consultant, Event Risk Management Solutions, last year. Conrad said 20 of the 24 recommendations are in place or in the process of being implemented.

The fee is one of the four that had not been implemented until Tuesday. The other recommendations not in place are asking the state to close the street as a public street, replacing the trash bins on Beale with clear liners, and forming a joint command post center where officers can monitor the area live and dispatch when necessary.

The council voted in 2017 to end the Beale Street Bucks program, which charged a $5 fee on Saturday nights during peak season. Then in 2018, the council voted to implement the fee on a needs basis.

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