Council OKs Beale St. Bucks donation to MPD

Concerns rise over district oversight.

Montee Lopez, Special to | 3/9/2017, 11:49 a.m.
Concerns rise over district oversight.

Lucille Catron addressed the City Council to ask for an investigation of the Beale Street Bucks program.

Lucille Catron addressed the City Council to ask for an investigation of the Beale Street Bucks program.

At a Memphis City Council meeting on Feb. 21, Lucille Catron, executive director of the Beale Street Development Corporation, asked the Council to investigate the use of the Beale Street Bucks program, which assessed would-be patrons a $10 cover fee to get into the entertainment district on certain dates and at designated times.

Catron, owner of the Old Daisy Theatre, was one of a handful of African-American business owners on Beale Street that came to voice opposition to a resolution that sought to stamp the Council’s OK on a $25,000 donation to the Memphis Police Department.

The donation was to come from a pool of money collected via the controversial Beale Street Bucks program and administered by the Beale Street Merchants Association. The objection triggered a decision to send the proposal back to committee for review.

On Tuesday, the resolution was back and the Council approved the MPD donation. However, there now is the possibility that the Council may seize whatever amount of money remains from the Beale Street Bucks fund. City Council Attorney Allan Wade has said he would talk with the Council on Tuesday about the disputed Beale Street Bucks revenue.

Here is the way Catron framed the matter for the Council when she spoke asking for the delay on the MPD donation.

“I’m not against the $25,000 for the Police Department. I am against how this money was made. This money was made by this $10 Beale Street Bucks. The $10 Beale Street Bucks was not instituted by the City of Memphis,” said Catron.

“It was instituted by the (Beale Street) Merchant’s Association. Beale Street Development Corporation caused the Merchant’s Association to be in existence. Now the Merchants Association has strategically, aggregiously disenfranchised African Americans.”

Beale Street Bucks was put in place last June after several violent weekends on and around Beale Street. This included the deaths of Booker T. Washington High pending graduate Myneisha Johnson, and Memphis Police Officer Verdell Smith.

Under Beale Street Bucks, would-be patrons had to pay a cover charge of $10 to get on the street. In exchange, they’d got a $7 drink voucher that could be used at select establishments in the entertainment district. It was only in force during the weekends and big events where crowd turnout was expected to be huge.

Some called it unfair and questioned how there could be a charge to gain access to a public street.

That’s a question the courts may decide to answer. Catron has filed a suit over the Beale Street Bucks matter, naming the City of Memphis and several organizations. It is one three suits pending related to the operation of the entertainment district.

Catron told the Council that, “We (the Beale Street Development Corporation) know nothing of the money that was collected…It was only by our legal requests that we found out they had collected $180,000, cash money…

“This money at 3 o’clock in the morning is going to one place. We know of no exact amount….I urge the Council before you except this, to investigate.”

Beale Street Merchants Association Executive Director Ken Taylor note what he concluded was the success of the Beale Street Bucks program.

“There was a 30 percent drop in crime along the street,” Taylor told The New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday. “That can’t be ignored.”

Taylor said Beale Street Bucks was part of the safety enhancement plan for Beale Street.

The program raised $183,555 from June to October. The Beale Street Merchants Association also gave $10,000 to Streets Ministries, $10,000 to Porter-Leath, $5,000 to the Handy Artist Relief Trust, and $5,000 to the Operation Re-Start Program.

Beale Street Bucks ended in October and there is no word on whether it will – or can be – brought back.

“Right now, it’s still on the table,” Taylor said.