Beale Street Bucks program is in limbo — again

The Memphis City Council now is on a course that could lead to the end of the controversial Beale Street Bucks Program when the council meets in two weeks.

Montee Lopez, Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 5/11/2017, 11:40 a.m.
The Memphis City Council now is on a course that could lead to the end of the controversial Beale Street ...
The musical entertainment on Beale Street continues as the fate of the Beale Street Bucks program, which affects access to the entertainment district, hangs in the balance. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

The Memphis City Council now is on a course that could lead to the end of the controversial Beale Street Bucks Program when the council meets in two weeks.

On Tuesday, a council committee voted 5-3 to recommend that the full council put a halt to the program that some hail as a crime stopper and others view as racial-profiling tool that targets the poor. A vote on that recommendation was put off until May 23.

The delay coincides with the council’s decision to put off a vote on the budget of the Downtown Memphis Commission, the interim manager of the Beale Street Entertainment District and the group that now implements the program. Meanwhile, Allan Wade, attorney for the council, will continue his task of determining who controls the city-owned district – the council or the city administration.

Beale Street Bucks was created in 2014. In its present incarnation, the program requires patrons to pay a $10 cover charge to get on Beale Street on Saturday nights. In return, patrons receive an $8 food/drink voucher, which can be used at select restaurants.

The program is implemented during the summer months and major events. It was last used this past summer after several violent events, including two murders near Beale Street. It was quietly brought back into play toward the end of April.

Lawsuits filed by Lucille Catron, executive director of the Beale Street Development Corporation, claim the program targets the poor, and possibly African-Americans, in an attempt to keep those who may cause trouble away from the popular tourist attraction.

“Beale Street bucks is detrimental to the city of Memphis,” Catron said. “We could come up with other means than what we are doing.”

The lawsuit names the Beale Street Merchants Association, The City of Memphis, and the Downtown Memphis Commission as defendants. One of the ongoing legal challenges is whether the city has the right to shut down a public street in such a manner and, according to a judge, the DMC is authorized to keep running the Beale Street Bucks Program while the matter is being litigated.

Terence Patterson, who is president of the DMC, rejects the assertion that the Beale Street Bucks program amounts to racial profiling. Patterson is African American.

“We need to implement this program so that we can alleviate overcrowding and we can better monitor with MPD,” Patterson said.

The program raised $183,555 in surplus funds last year.