Sanford: Beale Street cover charge ‘arbitrary’; needed to go

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The debate over charging people to enter the Beale Street Entertainment District on busy Saturday nights has finally reached an end and customers are the ones getting a break.

On Tuesday, the City Council put a stop to the $5 cover charge on Saturdays after 10 p.m. during the spring and summer months. The five to three vote was far from a majority of the full 13 member council, but was enough to make the vote valid.

Supporters of the charge, which included Beale Street merchants and police officials, insisted the fee helped limit overcrowding, reduced rowdiness and increased safety, but some said it was discriminatory as the majority of Saturday night patrons are African American.

Now, the city will spend $50,000 to hire a crowd control consultant who will offer ways to maintain order without the cover charge. The consultant's fee will come from money already collected through the cover charge and an earlier $10 fee known as the Beale Street Bucks program.

The district is arguably the most popular entertainment venue in Memphis.

Its history spans more than 150 years and it's known worldwide.

The unruliness occurring on the street was clearly a problem, but the cover charge was arbitrary and unfair. Hopefully officials can now find an acceptable balance that insures public safety while still allowing for a good time down on Beale.