MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Tourists and locals who visit the blues bars, dance clubs and barbecue joints on Memphis’ Beale Street on Saturday nights now have to bring along some extra cash, just for the privilege of being there.
In response to a spate of violence near the famous drag in downtown Memphis, officials have begun charging a $10 entrance fee from those who want to party on Beale Street after 10 p.m. on its busiest night of the week. After they pass through a police barricade and pay the fee, patrons’ identifications are inspected and men with metal detecting wands check them for weapons.
But in return, the Beale Street Bucks program gives visitors a $7 voucher to spend at Beale Street businesses.
Officials say the rare move of charging to enter Beale Street will help reduce overcrowding and keep away underage teens and troublemakers from the three-block entertainment district. The entrance fee was instituted after an 18-year-old woman was killed last month when police said a man fired shots with an assault rifle into a crowd near Beale Street. On June 4, a police officer was run over and killed near Beale Street while clearing pedestrians from the path of a car being driven by a man who had shot three people outside a restaurant and the iconic Memphis Pyramid.
Police say downtown crime this year has risen 9.3 percent compared with last year. Also, Memphis has seen 103 homicides so far this year, compared with 64 at the same time in 2015.
“I’m concerned about the safety about all the people in Memphis, whether they’re residents or visitors,” Mayor Jim Strickland said during a June 6 news conference.
When Beale Street Bucks started last Saturday, it caught some patrons by surprise. Tommy Mosley and his wife drove about two hours to Memphis from Dyersburg, Tennessee, to enjoy a night on Beale Street, but he didn’t expect to be charged to enter. A frequent visitor to Beale Street, he says he enjoys the food and the people he meets here.
Mosley, 53, said he had heard of the crime problems, but he wasn’t worried.
“As far as the security, I think it will keep down the crime,” he said of the entrance fee. “I have no problem with it.”
Steps away, Wesley Miskelly, 23, was livid. He had left a live music venue on Beale Street to look for friends, and he saw no signs saying he would have to pay to re-enter. When he returned to the street, he was told he had to pay $10. He refused.
“Nothing told me I was leaving Beale Street and would have to be charged to come back in,” said Miskelly, a Memphis native who estimates he has been to Beale Street at least 70 times. “This is stupid and I’m going home. This is ruining whatever I thought Beale Street was. Dumb, dumb, dumb.”
City officials also have increased the number of officers on the street, including adding more Shelby County sheriff’s deputies, and they are monitoring alleyways more closely and enforcing underage curfews. Police were more visible last Saturday, and there were more barricades on cross streets and alleyways.
Terence Patterson, president and CEO of the Downtown Memphis Commission, said businesses saw roughly the same amount of traffic on the first night of Beale Street Bucks as they would on any other June night. Patterson acknowledged that there were glitches, including how businesses processed the vouchers and how they informed patrons of the re-entry policy.
Officials have enforced entrance fees on Beale Street on other occasions, also in response to crime. Those efforts ended after several weeks. Officials said the new program is expected to last into August.