Ryan Poe, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
Three Memphis City Council members and three city employees will visit New Orleans’ Bourbon Street on the taxpayers’ dime this weekend to glean ideas for Beale Street.
The group will meet with elected, law enforcement and Homeland Security officials Friday, said council chairman Berlin Boyd, who heads a council task force hoping to address issues like overcrowding and stampedes on Memphis’ most iconic street.
Joining Boyd on the trip are council members Martavius Jones and Patrice Robinson, council administrator Juaness Keplinger, council staffer Ashleigh Hayes and task force member Keith Watson, a major in the Memphis Police Department.
The expenses of everyone except Watson will come from the council’s annual travel budget, which council members increased 54 percent to $100,000 earlier this year. Watson’s expenses will be routed through the administration.
“We’re just exploring what they’re doing on Bourbon Street to find takeaways to implement here on Beale,” Boyd said.
Mayor Jim Strickland agreed in June to temporarily replace the Beale Street Bucks voucher program with a council-approved $5 cover charge while the task force assembled its recommendations. Previously, the temporary street manager, the Downtown Memphis Commission, was charging patrons $10 to enter the public street but giving back $8 in Bucks that could be spent with merchants on the street. Strickland initially declined to switch from vouchers to the cover charge because of fears the cover charge wasn’t high enough to thin the crowds to a more manageable size.
The task force was initially slated to present its recommendations for Beale Street and the controversial $5 cover charge to enter the street on Saturdays, but Boyd said the task force will probably wait until October to present its recommendations to the council.
As part of its research, the task force and its several council members also recently visited Beale Street to observe — but not participate in — a typical Saturday night.
“It’s so intricate,” Boyd said of the street’s issues. “Everybody’s trying to find solutions. We’re still debating it and trying to find our option one, two and three to present to the council.”