Council votes to reinstate ‘Beale Street Bucks’ cover charge

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A walk down Beale Street will once again cost you on certain nights, but it's not yet clear how much.

Memphis City Council voted 7-3 Tuesday evening to bring back the controversial Beale Street Bucks program, which charged visitors $5 to enter Beale Street on Saturday nights until it ended last year.

The new Beale Street Bucks program will only apply on days when crowds are projected to exceed 10,000 and will only last until January, at which point, City Council will consider whether to continue it.

The program was one of a number of measures recommended by an independent security firm the city hired earlier this year.

"Of the 22 stampedes, 21 happened when we did not have the Beale Street Bucks program," said Councilman Kemp Conrad, who spearheaded the Beale Street Bucks proposal.

Conrad believes the cover charge will reduce the chances of a stampede like the one that happened in 2016.

“I’m willing to give it a try for the sake of compromising," said Berlin Boyd, who was initially opposed to the idea of re-adopting the controversial program.

Earlier Tuesday, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings had warned about the potential consequences of not voting for the program.

"I think we are very close to having our own Pulse night club shooting," he told WREG.

But that warning wasn't enough to sway Councilwoman Patrice Robinson, one of only three council members who voted against re-adopting Beale Street Bucks.

Robinson said having more police officers milling through the crowd would be a better solution. She remains doubtful a cover charge will deter crime.

"They can borrow money, they’re gonna get in there, and if that doesn’t work, they’ll jump the fence," Robinson said.

Asked about specifics of the new Beale Street Bucks program, Downtown Memphis Commission President Jennifer Oswalt wrote, "No decisions have been made, yet -- we are just pleased to have the council's support on all the security recommendations."

When Beale Street Bucks was first adopted, visitors were charged $10 on  Saturdays after 10 p.m., and received an $8 voucher to use in Beale Street businesses. The charge was later lowered to $5.