Saturday, September 6, 2003

Beale, but different

Main Street: New life

The city of Cincinnati should welcome the expertise of Memphis developer John Elkington to help continue the revitalization of Main Street. But in turning to an outsider for expertise, the city must not lose sight of the homegrown assets that make the Main Street district so uniquely Cincinnati. The eclectic collection of bars, restaurants, shops and bookstores are the leading edge of the city's entertainment renaissance.Elkington's company, Performa Entertainment Real Estate Inc., operates Beale Street (www.bealestreet.com) in Memphis, one of the South's top entertainment tourist attractions. Near the beginning of the 20th century, Beale Street was a haven for Delta blues, bars and gambling, but it eventually fell into despair. Over the past 20 years, Elkington's group has pumped new life into the street, and by all accounts the redevelopment has been a success.

Beale Street has become a model to which other cities aspire. Elkington is developing similar projects in Jackson, Miss., Winston-Salem, N.C., South Trenton, N.J., Knoxville, Tenn., and Shreveport, La.

What has made Beale successful is that it incorporates nationally known entertainment venues, such as Hard Rock Cafe and Pat O'Brien's, with venues unique to Memphis. Elvis Presley's name is on a music club there, as well as B.B. King's. The street also features an amphitheater for outdoor concerts. New retail and housing development has attracted thousands of new residents who permanently live in downtown Memphis, and the popularity of Beale Street continues to grow.

That success can and should be emulated in Cincinnati, which has its own rich music history, but with venues unique to this city. The effort here should play up this city's rich professional sports history, its German heritage, its diversity. It should highlight King Records and James Brown and establish venues that would feed off the musical contributions of R&B legends Bootsie Collins, the Isley Brothers, rocker Peter Frampton and others.

Mayor Charlie Luken and Councilman John Cranley launched the Main Street initiative last spring. That has built upon the work of private entrepreneurs. People are buying condos there, crime is down and new businesses are opening.

The pieces are in place. It is hoped that Elkington's group can provide guidance to tie the plan together, help close the deal and make Main Street a regional destination point.

Beale, but different
Legacy of involvement
Council support
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