“The importance of it is that now the people of Memphis, through city government, will be in charge of Beale St., one of our most cherished historic properties,” Mayor AC Wharton Jr. told the New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday afternoon.
“Now, that does not mean that I will move my office down there and start running Beale St. We’re going to come up with a management structure, which we will be announcing just as soon as the judge signs off on the order, which we expect to be very shortly.”
City control translates into much more transparency and accountability, said Wharton. That’s a big deal for many, particularly those who have openly – and repeatedly – argued that the current arrangement allows for an ongoing rip-off of the heritage of the African-American community.
Expect an accounting system where everyday Memphians will be able to look and see details such as how much money Beale Street takes in from wristbands and how much rent is being paid, said Wharton, noting the transparency dispute that has entangled the Beale Street Development Corporation (Randle Catron, executive director) and Performa (run by John A. Elkington).
BSDC, the master leaseholder for the Beale Street district, long has maintained that it has been shortchanged by Performa, which by agreement (1982) receives a portion of merchant rent payments for managing the district. BSDC and the city were supposed to get the remainder. Over the years, sales tax money has flowed to the city, but nothing more, with Performa and Elkington saying there was no leftover to speak of.
The pending agreement does not say who or what group was in the right. It just sets out the way it is going to be going forward.
“I’m glad to see him (Elkington) gone because the street had taken another direction,” said Catron. “The city will (now) realize some revenue from the street. For 26 years there has never been a profit made according to Mr. Elkington’s calculations. Now with new calculations going on, a court-appointed receiver is now accumulating monies that should have been accumulated for the last 26 years.
“So, if you are a bad manager, and you never realized a profit, you need to be gone,” said Catron.
Elkington had not been reached for comment by TSD press time. The proposed agreement calls for the Beale Street Merchants Association to pay legal fees amassed by Performa, with rent credits for doing so. Elkington, according to the pending settlement, would have his worked acknowledged in a “public ceremony.”
Elkington merits immense credit as the one that “brung us to the dance, so to speak,” said Wharton.
“I just do not want to get into grading his performance. We’re going to be honoring him, and I’ll make the appropriate remarks at that time,” said Wharton. “I’m looking to the future. So just mark me up as declining to comment other than to say that I give him immense credit for his pioneering spirit and getting us to the point that we are now.”
Wharton said a process is in place to transition from Performa’s oversight.
“There will be immediate oversight from the city of Memphis,” he said.
Wharton emphasized the work of the committee he appointed to examine how the district should be managed going forward. He said a draft of the committee’s report indicates considerable diligence in weighing “the original tenor and character of the offerings on Beale St….There will be laser-focused attention on making sure that we adhere to the real historical culture of Beale St.”
The committee’s final report is expected within 10 days or less, he said.