By Bill Dries
It’s been several years since executives at Elvis Presley Enterprises took an expansion plan to homeowners in Whitehaven.
The last time was when the entertainment company CKx Inc. owned 85 percent of Graceland and rolled out a $250 million plan. The plan was to expand the area around Graceland into a resort setting with more hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues.
That was before the worst national economic downturn since the Great Depression settled in for a long stay and put the ambitious plan on ice.
Residents were concerned about the impact on traffic into their neighborhoods, especially without any planned improvements to the boulevard itself. They were also hopeful the resort-style setting would have a ripple effect on businesses aimed at trade from Memphians.
And CKx CEO Robert Sillerman was quick to dismiss rumors that the resort would include a large Ferris wheel, which had drawn the concern of homeowners.
Graceland leaders will go back to the area residents May 15 at the Graceland Car Museum for a community meeting on plans for a 450-room hotel on the same side of Elvis Presley Boulevard as the mansion, on a parcel of land EPE has owned since the mid-1990s.
Elvis Presley Enterprises filed paperwork Wednesday, April 30, with the Memphis-Shelby County Land Use Control Board for the hotel.
Elvis Presley Boulevard is not only Whitehaven’s Main Street, it is also a U.S. highway with long-established residential areas a block east and west behind much of the corridor.
Neighborhood groups long have supported a more vibrant and better planned commercial development corridor along the boulevard.
They were also an integral part of the push by Memphis City Council member Harold Collins over several years for the $43 million in local, state and federal funding for streetscape improvements between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive. So was Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Collins has made it clear that the streetscape improvements are just as much about improving the commercial corridor for Memphians as they are about improving it for the tourists who come to Graceland.
“The economic impact gained by the city from the Elvis Presley fans who annually visit Graceland will be boosted by the addition of this hotel development,” Collins said Thursday.
The hotel plans surfaced five months after Authentic Brands Group LLCcompleted its purchase of a majority of Elvis Presley Enterprises from CORE Media Group.
CORE Media was a rebranding of CKx Inc.
The ambitious $250 million plan pushed by CKx was a casualty of the economic downturn, even though EPE bought up several apartment complexes on both sides of Elvis Presley Boulevard and cleared the land of the apartment units in anticipation of it.
Meanwhile, CKx and later Core Media moved ahead with plans that included a Las Vegas-style Cirque du Soleil show based on Elvis Presley’s music, as well as reissues and repackaging of Presley’s music and virtual concerts combining a live band with film images of Presley. CORE Media also pursued development of a digital image of Presley for use in the performances, similar to a holographic image of rapper Tupac Shakur developed a few years ago.
The 450-room hotel would be the biggest hotel in Memphis outside the Downtown area including the Hilton in East Memphis and Hotel Memphis on Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Parkway Village. And with the 450 rooms come meeting facilities and a restaurant and bar that are expected to have their own economic impact on the Whitehaven area.
Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, which is across Elvis Presley Boulevard from the site for the new hotel, is a boutique hotel with 128 rooms built in the late 1980s and renovated at least once. It was built as a Wilson World hotel and was bought from Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson and his CKW Limited Partnership by Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1998, a few years after EPE bought the land where the new hotel is to be built.
The first sign of new life in the development plan was in March, when Elvis Presley Enterprises filed a $670,000 permit application with the city-county Office of Construction Code Enforcement to build a new “studio building” also on land north of the mansion.
The permit is for property at 3674 Elvis Presley Blvd., which had been a car lot in the past and was bought by EPE in 2006 in anticipation of the CKx expansion. Flintco Inc. was listed as the general contractor on that permit application.