When I hear the term “entertainment district,” visions of Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn. immediately come to mind. It’s one of the more famous examples, where three city blocks full of restaurants, bars and shops cater to locals and tourists.
It’s an area where I’ve frequently enjoyed tasty food, great music and the occasional adult beverage.
Between South 2nd Street and South 4th Street, Beale Street is blocked off every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m., said Dianne Glasper, who has worked for Beale Street Management for 23 years.
“We allow traffic for four hours each morning but it’s blocked off the rest of the time so people can walk up and down the street with alcohol and not have to worry about getting hit by cars,” said Glasper, who is the leasing agent for Beale Street Management. “We’re the landlords for the street and we collect rent from the businesses in the Beale Street Historic District.”
She said the rundown area — which had enjoyed a rich history — was redeveloped in 1983 and the three-block section of Beale Street has been blocked off regularly since.
Of course, the most popular entertainment district in the United States is probably the French Quarter in New Orleans. It’s the oldest section of New Orleans, dating back to 1718, and consists of 78 square blocks where local open container laws allow people to drink alcohol on the streets.
Having been to the Quarter and to Beale Street several dozen times each, I can vouch for the fun and excitement of an entertainment district. But these are much larger than what will be proposed for Colorado Springs.
City council is likely to approve entertainment districts for the Springs on Sept. 26 but it’s after that when most of the details will be hammered out on a case-by-case basis. A “promotional association” will apply to council to operate a “common consumption area.” It could be two restaurants applying for approval for a shared patio space. Or it could be a group of businesses applying to shut down a section of Tejon Street — as is the case on Beale Street.
“It could be a situation where multiple liquor licenses and businesses working together will apply,” said Colorado Springs Liquor and Beer Licensing Board chairman Ian Lee, a co-owner of Brooklyn’s on Boulder Street, a local watering hole. “This is an opportunity for businesses to have more business. There are a number of steps that have to go into planning to pull one of these off. But using space that isn’t traditionally leveraged for cultural activities — like when you shut a street down and let people walk around, it can provide a different experience and can be good for neighborhoods or districts.”
Some people — be they citizens, politicians or business owners — may oppose that, Lee admitted, because it would require more use of city services involving setup, cleanup and police or fire department employees.
“We certainly don’t want something that shuts down Tejon Street on a permanent basis,” said Susan Edmonson, president and CEO of Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. “At times it’s fine, but not weekly or daily.”
City Councilor Don Knight predicts that the ordinance allowing entertainment districts in the Springs will pass handily with the nine-member council.
“I’m seeing the positives,” Knight said. “I would not have been a champion of this if it was new legislation coming forward. But it’s something that’s been enabled at the state level. I’ll be supporting it … My concern is do we need another place where people can drink, and walk the streets.”
It seems obvious that shutting down a section of Tejon Street for any length of time is not a good idea. The area is just not conducive to that; Beale Street is different as it’s largely populated by music venues and restaurants.
And, just three blocks from that section of Beale Street is a downtown stadium, where the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds have played since 2000.
A downtown ballpark — what a great idea for the Springs.
Editor’s note: Read more about city council’s first reading regarding entertainment districts in the Aug. 25 print edition of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.