Council OKs temporary Beale Street admission fee to curb crowds

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Beale Street admission fee is back, at least temporarily.

Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings asked Memphis City Council to institute a $5 admission fee to the street to help increase security and reduce crowd size after a particularly violent weekend on Beale.

The resolution was passed, and the dates that will have a fee are Fridays and Saturdays in May and all of Memorial Day weekend.

Police say these days during May bring extra people to Beale, so more security is needed. They hope this fee can hinder stampedes and shootings, which each happened twice Sunday—the same day as a sold-out Beale Street Music Festival.

“We’ve had a record number of crowds,” Rallings said. “Most crowds like to leave and like to come to Beale Street. So we’re just trying to do what we can do to keep individuals safe at the end of the day.”

Rallings said a 13-year-old was separated from her family and was missing several hours.  She was allegedly criminally assaulted during that time.

At 2:48 a.m. Sunday, a person was shot directly in front of a police officer near Beale and 4th, leading to a vehicle pursuit. That night at 9:19 p.m., there was a stampede of people rushing down Beale Street because a person heard a barricade fall and yelled that shots were fired, Rallings said. The gates were closed right after that but reopened at 9:30 p.m.

The same night at 10:33 p.m., a person was shot at Beale and 4th, leading to a stampede on the south half of Beale, and two more victims later showed up at hospitals. Two guns were recovered from the suspect, and one of those had been previously stolen from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

This fee is different from the Beale Street Bucks program that was discontinued in January. Beale Street Bucks varied in price from time-to-time, was not only allotted for security and during some of its existence, it included a voucher so the visitor would receive part of that money back to spend at businesses.

All of the money from this current fee will go towards police and security improvements. It is not permanent, and council members said they would work for a long-term Beale Street safety plan.

“I have been an advocate for not charging on Beale Street; however, looking at this past weekend, looking at these incidents that transpired, I think that it’s ultimately up to us to remove ourselves from possible litigation and do something,” Councilman Berlin Boyd, a sponsor of the resolution, said. “But I also think that we need to work to come up with a real plan of how to control the crowd on Beale Street that may allow us not to have to charge.”

Rallings said he saw improvements in safety when Beale Street Bucks was in place. He said, since 2003, during times when Beale Street Bucks was not implemented, there were 24 violent stampedes or large fights on Beale. During times when the program was implemented, there was one such instance.

There was major opposition from Councilwoman Janita Swearengen, who said Beale Street Bucks were added on the days of the week “when black folks went” to Beale and that fees stop tourists from going to Beale. She said the area would be safer “if the police would get of their cars and stop sleeping and eating” while large crowds are there.

“We want people who come here from worldwide for the music festival and for barbecue fest to come to Beale Street,” Swearengen said. “You’re keeping people from coming to the city of Memphis.”

The measure Tuesday passed 7-5, with Patrice Robinson, Joe Brown, Cheyenne Johnson, Martavius Jones and Swearengen opposing.

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