Accusations of fraud, deception, and racism in battle to manage Beale Street

Randal Catron on death bed (SOURCE: family)
Randal Catron on death bed (SOURCE: family)
Catron's signature on Last Will and Testament (SOURCE: family)
Catron's signature on Last Will and Testament (SOURCE: family)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Beale Street is at the center of a clash that's reaching volcanic proportions.

From its heyday in the roaring 20s, to being dubbed America's Most Iconic Street in the 21st century, Beale Street represents the social fabric of Memphis.

However, a battle over who pulls the strings on Beale Street's cobblestone turf is boiling over and it begins with allegations against the many groups fighting to lead the charge.

Lucille Catron, executive director of Beale Street Development Corporation (BSDC), says the BSDC is suing to take over Beale.

"Because we are African-Americans, you want to dismiss us," she said about those she's suing, which include the mayor's office, Downtown Memphis Commission, Beale Street Merchants Association, and Downtown Tourism Development Authority.

Catron told Memphis City Council this week that her late husband and predecessor, Randle, was part of the group of African-American men who lobbied to revive Beale Street in 1982.

"Beale Street was a ghost town," Catron recalled.

Back then, the group secured $23 million along with federal rights to Beale Street's master lease.

"That is why we (BSDC) have the 52-year master lease," she explained.

However, the city does not recognize Catron's claims because of one document: "Exhibit F" in her lawsuit.

The February 3, 2015 settlement surrenders Catron's master lease to City of Memphis. The settlement appears to have Randle Catron's signature.

"With doctors' statements, medical records, he was on his death bed and they said we had a settlement on that day with Randle Catron," Catron claimed.

Catron's suit alleges her husband was in such bad shape, he did not have the capacity to sign anything that day. Her handwriting analyst claims in the lawsuit that the signature is forged. She said she doesn't know who put her husband's signature on the settlement.

Catron showed WMC Action News 5 a signature from her husband's last will and testament in comparison to the signature on the city settlement.

With the issue in litigation, Downtown Memphis Commission is managing the street in the interim and attorneys for the defendants declined to respond.

All the while, yet another group is staking claim on Beale.

21 Beale, a group made up of real estate executives, a former nightclub owner, attorney, and more, made a plea to the council that they are most qualified to manage Beale Street. They said their bid was denied because they're mostly African-American.

"To say that we don't have the requisite experience borders on ludicrous," former Chicago club owner Dwain Kyles told the council.

Beale Street Merchants Association, which represents 22 businesses on Beale, publicly voiced reservations about the group.

"We want a full-time, consistent manager for the street, regardless of who that is," said Beale Street Merchants Association Executive Director Ken Taylor.  "But, obviously having so much invested in the street, we have strong opinions as to who that should be."

Off camera, some people with interests in Beale Street told WMC Action News 5's Kontji Anthony that they're concerned about 21 Beale's ability to keep the street safe after Kyles' Chicago nightclub had a deadly stampede 12 years ago that killed 21 people.

For the first time, Kyles, son of Memphis civil rights icon Samuel Billy Kyles, is specifically speaking out about his sentence in that case.

"The sentence, which speaks to the severity of the charge, was 500 hours of community service," he said.  "I've done the 500 hours. If anything, I think the experience has made me hyper vigilant about safety."

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Janis Fullilove suggested 21 Beale was the only Beale Street manager that could offer historic value.

"When you talk about a historical perspective, you're not getting it because black folk, whether you like it or not, we were there on Beale Street.  Beale Street was us," Fullilove told the committee.

Then, a twist during the committee meeting, when Terence Patterson, CEO and President of Downtown Memphis Commission, made it known they would like to extend their interim role.

"As we think about the next three years, we would like to re-imagine the market strategy, reinvest nearly $200,000 to think about the new market approach," he told the council.

Patterson calls the criticism that came out of the committee important.

"This is a predominantly African-American community, so we're going to make sure we stay focused on that and we know that we can do better in that regard," he said.

While all arrows seem to point towards Downtown Memphis Commission's continued management of Beale Street, Beale Street Tourism Development Zone has the final say on that matter.

The January meeting was canceled amid the turmoil, but its tentatively scheduled to resume meetings next month. That's when 21 Beale will know more.

Meanwhile, Catron's court case continues later this month.

All other parties in the case declined comment on this story.

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