Experts discuss legality of Beale Street cover charge

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The Downtown Memphis Commission stood its ground Monday, saying it can legally charge a $10 fee to enter Beale Street when it's at risk of overcrowding.

Attorney Carlton Orange sat down with WREG to discuss the idea of charging to walk on a public street.

He said cities like Williamsburg, Va., charge to enter historic buildings, but not necessarily walk on the street.

He said the idea of charging isn't illegal, but he has concerns about the reasons behind it.

"In my opinion, this is a form of economic discrimination. They're targeting a group. I don't know what or who that group is," Orange said.

Orange said the commission needs to identify exactly how the money will go towards safety.

He said it also needs to find a way to quantify what overcrowding really means.

The fee went into effect following an incident on Beale where a man passed out in his blood, and onlookers took cellphone video of him and robbed him.

The Downtown Memphis Commission admits it didn't discuss the cover charge with a city attorney immediately before implementing it, but said the city has trusted Beale to the commission since the 1980s.

The commission compared the cover charge to the Kansas City Power and Light District. That area in Missouri encompasses eight-and-a-half blocks.

A person at the district's office said it charges a $10 cover sometimes late on weekends, but that fee guarantees entry to one block for an event and takes care of cover at two different bars or restaurants.

The Downtown Memphis Commission also said Beale Street is more than just a public street.

It will continue to charge the fee when the street is at risk of overcrowding, particularly on early Sunday morning hours.


  • Harold

    “In my opinion, this is a form of economic discrimination. They’re targeting a group. I don’t know what or who that group is,” Orange said.
    I don’t know, the criminal element possibly?

    • Leeboy

      So, your logic just solved the crime problem? A cover charge to walk the streets? Why aren’t you in City Hall or leading the Police and Sheriff’s Department? Criminals are not the only ones who think a cover charge to walk down Beale Street is discriminatory! Let the lawsuits roll! Will Memphis or the Downtown Commission take responsibility for this brilliant idea? Another reason not to go downtown.

      • Harold

        Sorry? Where in my statement did I say it would solve the crime problem? You must be one of those that think one thing will solve it. Please enlighten us with your logic. Tell us this magical one thing that will cure all our ails. Sorry again, there is no such magic step that would do that. It will take many steps to accomplish such a feat, and then it will not be %100. There will always be crime. All we can do is try our best to reduce it. One step at a time my friend, one step at a time.

  • Skeptic

    The city requires businesses to get an “Occupancy Rating”. If there is too large of a crowd in a business, the fire marshal can come in and shut down the business until the crowd thins. Why can’t this be done for Beale St. If more than a certain amount is on the street close it down and don’t let anymore people on till it thins out.

    The Downtown Commission has not had over sight of the street since the !980’s. That has only been for the last year or two. John Elkington and Beale St. Management had to privilege.

    When the barricades are put up, the street becomes a “private” area. Although, it is a public street, this is done to be able to sell alcohol outside of the bars. This was setup by the State Gov’t a few years ago.

  • ron

    Beale Street is a main tourist attraction for the city. Its one that brings in bucks from other places and money is spent and re spent here. Lets make it safe for them and charge a $10 dollar cover at 4 pm. They can get a free drink or 2 in any club with their payment stub.

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