Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Blues Live on Beale Street, but Not the Chapter 11 Variety

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The Blues Live on Beale Street, but Not the Chapter 11 Variety

Article excerpt

They still sing the blues on Beale Street, but no longer with a real sense of desperation, as in Chapter 11 blues.

The redeveloped street has survived a turbulent decade. It is posting record profits and has grand designs on the future.

Beale Street is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its rebirth this month by laughing at its growing pains and dreaming on a grand scale. Beale has announced a five-year expansion program that would extend its operation westward toward the Mississippi River, adding more music clubs, restaurants and stores.

Four years ago, this urban renewal project was on the brink of bankruptcy. Today, in a three-block area between statues of W.C. Handy and Elvis Presley, on the street considered the birthplace of the blues, one can hear music at six clubs and, in the park, eat Memphis barbecue and buy Memphis souvenirs.

It's a unique marriage of history and business and, according to its management, the country's first successful redevelopment of a historically black street.

"We're not trying to create a museum, we're trying to create economic development," said John Elkington, chief executive officer of Beale Street Management. "I think we've made a significant change in this part of the town. It's time to take it to the next level."

Beale's success story is about minority entrepreneurs such as Jerome and Marsha Burt, who started out selling roses on the street and now own two thriving souvenir shops. It's about musicians like the Tabor family, who used to sing the blues under the elm tree in Handy Park and now play inside Beale's clubs. And it's about Elkington's perseverance and deep pockets.

The proprietors on Beale - there are only three original tenants left from 10 years ago - have grown accustomed to Elkington's pep rally approach.

"We'd sit in those state-of-the- street meetings and John would tell us how great things were going to be," said Al James, Beale's general manager, "and we'd come out shaking our heads, wondering just what he was on. …

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