Temporary managers are now running Beale Street, but a new set of permanent, Memphis City Hall-appointed overseers is on the way.
The city owns the four-block entertainment district and had a lease/management deal with the privately held Performa Entertainment for more than 30 years. That agreement ended January 1, 2014, and the Downtown Memphis Commission (DMC) took over.
The next step in the overall plan for the street is to appoint a board of directors to manage the district. That board will, more than likely, look for another private company to run the day-to-day operations of Beale Street.
The Memphis City Council got its first look this week at a plan to organize that board of directors, called the Beale Street Tourism Development Authority (BSTDA). The plan is the work of Memphis Mayor
A C Wharton and city council co-sponsors Kemp Conrad and Edmund Ford Jr. The council reviewed the plan on Tuesday.
The board of directors is to be comprised of nine voting members, all appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council, according to the council resolution. The board would also have two non-voting members, one to represent the mayor and the other to represent the council. The members would have to be Memphis residents and registered voters.
Conrad said the framework for the BSTDA exists under Tennessee law. He pointed to examples in Memphis like the New Arena Public Building Authority, which oversees the FedExForum, and the Memphis and Shelby County Airport Authority, which oversees Memphis International Airport.
"We are tapping into the best and brightest in our community of people that understand real estate and entertainment," Conrad said. "But [the BSTDA] will make sure that [Beale Street] is ultimately controlled by the city, through mayoral appointments and county and city council confirmations."
- Beale Street
The DMC took charge of Beale Street at the stroke of midnight between 2013 and 2014. Wharton gave the task to the board a little more than a month before New Year's Eve, making for what DMC President Paul Morris called "an extremely aggressive ramp-up."
After adjusting to the basics of Beale Street management (things like responding to maintenance calls and collecting rent), the DMC began to develop the district. The group cut expenses and tried to reintroduce locals to the tourist hot spot through social media and events like "Lunch on Beale Street Day."
Everything the DMC did on Beale Street in 2014 netted about $216,000 for the city's coffers. Morris said it was the first time Beale Street operations showed a profit for the city "in maybe forever." Also, the street became fully leased under the DMC's watch.
He said establishing Wharton's Beale Street board is the right next step. Also, he said Beale Street needs a long-term "developer manager."
"I don't think we should be looking for somebody to just manage day to day," Morris said. "We should be looking for somebody to have a vision to grow Beale Street's product and brand and get it better connected to what's going on Downtown."