The Memphis City Council voted Tuesday to reinstate the fee to enter Beale Street based on “needs-based determination.”
Bringing back the entrance fee was one of the 24 recommendations made by the group, Event Risk Management Solutions (ERMS), which was hired by the Beale Street Task Force earlier this year to assess crowd control and safety on Beale.
After a long debate between the council Tuesday evening, they approved the fee 7-4, but on a temporary, needs-based basis that is to be determined by the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Memphis Police Department.
The original resolution, sponsored by Councilman Kemp Conrad, called for implementing an attendance-based entrance fee when the crowd is expected to exceed 10,000.
But, Council Chairman Berlin Boyd, who chaired the Beale Street Task Force said even an attendance-based charge could “look discriminatory.”
“Hypothetically, what if we have 10,000 African-American male and females on the street and you put Beale Street Bucks in place, what does that look like?” Boyd asked. “ What if we have 10,000 African Americans on Saturday and 10,000 African Americans on Sunday night and we put Beale Street Bucks in place? If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck.”
Boyd said public safety is important, but “we cannot have something that looks sketchy. I’m not voting for anything that’s going to looks like it’s discriminatory toward any person in the city of Memphis or any tourist.”
Councilman Worth Morgan told Boyd and colleagues that public safety shouldn’t be compromised for optics. Morgan also emphasized the importance of taking action, after an early morning shooting at the Purple Haze night club Monday.
To that, Boyd, joined by Councilman Martavius Jones, said an entrance fee would not have prevented that situation, as the night club is outside of the Beale Street Entertainment district.
Continuing, Boyd reiterated that the program “has to be fair and equitable” for those who patronize and visit Beale Street. He said he wants to make sure that the city isn’t putting itself in the position to get sued.
Council attorney Allan Wade agreed, saying that there may be some risks with setting the number at 10,000, as the study found there was no correlation between crowd size and incidents on Beale. In the case of ligation, he said the court could see the number as “arbitrary.” He suggests adopting some “further objective criteria” for determining the number.
“I do believe that a court would look at MPD’s determination as being needs-based on safety and could be more defensible in court,” Wade said. “That’s just my humble opinion.”
So, Councilman Bill Morrison proposed the idea of allowing MPD and the DMC decide what elements call for implementing a fee or other security measures like wanding patrons.
“Let’s let the experts have this conversation,” Morrison said. “Let’s let the folks that get paid to protect and manage decide.”
The council concurred that the Beale Street Merchants Association should have an input on determining safety precautions as well.
The $5 fee to enter the street on Saturday nights during peak seasons was eliminated by the council last November. Looking for an alternative to the fee, the Beale Street Task Force hired the crowd control consultant, ERMS earlier this year to study ways to keep the crowds on Beale orderly.
The group produced 24 recommendations in all. Some of which include setting the maximum capacity on the street to 20,000 people, restricting Beale Street to pedestrian traffic only, and redesigning the street’s entry points.
The study also concluded that there wasn’t enough regulation and monitoring of those entering the street.
Two weeks ago, the council made the first move toward new safety precautions, voting to spend a little under $800,000 for bollards — barriers keeping cars from driving onto the street. The bollards will be placed alongside Second protecting people lining up to enter the street, as well as at the ends of the entertainment portion of the street at Beale and Second and at Beale and Fourth.