Downtown Memphis boosters push to add Third Street to Blues Trail

Downtown Memphis boosters push to add Third Street to Blues Trail
June 29, 2011
By Wayne Risher
The Commercial Appeal

Downtown boosters are calling for a Highway 61 Blues Trail leading tourists into the heart of Memphis.

The Center City Commission proposes to have the Tennessee portion of U.S. 61 designated as the Blues Trail and connected to important sites including Beale Street and teenage Elvis Presley's home.

The storied Delta highway that brought blues musicians to Memphis falls about a mile short of Beale and Third. U.S. 61 joins E.H. Crump Boulevard south of Downtown and crosses the river into Arkansas along the Interstate 55 bridge.

Center City Commission vice president of planning and development Andy Kitsinger thinks that logistical issue could be resolved by having Third Street designated as Highway 61B.

Center City officials see it as a way to build heritage tourism and piggyback on the popularity of the Mississippi Blues Trail, which identifies and promotes more than 120 sites connected to blues music history around the Magnolia State. Many of the sites are clustered along U.S. 61 between Natchez and Memphis.

The section of U.S. 61 in Memphis was designated the B.B. King Highway by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2005 in honor of the Mississippi native who's one of the world's best-known blues artists.

Kitsinger's proposal envisions Blues Trail stops at Beale Street, the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, Uptown Square (formerly Lauderdale Courts) and the Chisca Hotel. Elvis and his parents lived in Lauderdale Courts at Third and Winchester when it was public housing.

The project could include a designated heritage tour route, maps, signs and historic markers.

State Rep. Barbara Cooper, who serves on the Center City board, will contact the Department of Transportation and other state officials about the Blues Trail, CCC president Paul Morris said.

Tourism and blues promoters applauded the idea.

The Blues Foundation, which organizes annual awards and talent showcases and serves as a clearinghouse for the music's fan base world wide, would welcome the trail, said executive director Jay Sieleman and board member Kevin Kane.

Kane, who is president of the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, said, "Highway 61 is so synonymous with the blues that there is nothing wrong with stretching it however far it might be stretched. It does have a magical name with blues enthusiasts.

"The longer Highway 61 runs through Memphis, the better for us," Kane added.

The CVB paid for a Mississippi Blues Trail marker that was placed on Third in front of FedExForum last year. It celebrates Mississippi-born musicians who created a lively blues scene on Beale Street.
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