JAMES DOWD - Scripps Howard News Service
December 13, 2013
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Presley Enterprises' new owners are promising a bold new direction for branding and marketing the Memphis icon.
Major upgrades to the property surrounding the late entertainer's Graceland mansion will include expanding Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel and boosting the number of Elvis artifacts available for public viewing.
"People who come to Memphis for Elvis Week in August of 2014 will be very surprised at the material things that have been done," said Joel Weinshanker, founder of National Entertainment Collectibles Association of Hillside, N.J.
Weinshanker, who sketched out the changes in an interview Thursday, himself was part of the deal announced in November to shift control of the Elvis Presley business rights away from Los Angeles-based CORE Media Group.
In that deal, Authentic Brands Group of New York and Weinshanker acquired 85 percent of Elvis Presley Intellectual Property Assets from CORE. Lisa Marie Presley continues to own the 15 percent share she held before the November transaction.
Lisa Marie Presley also maintains 100 percent ownership of Graceland, the mansion in the city's Whitehaven district, and the artifacts inside. Graceland ranks among Tennessee's leading attractions, drawing more than 500,000 tourists annually.
The new management team plans to take steps to ensure that visitors stay longer on the site.
"There needs to be a better reason to come to Graceland and stay longer and that means nicer places to stay and more interesting things to see," Weinshanker said.
Additional areas of the Graceland compound may be opened up for tours. Nearly 80 acres are available for further development. And an additional site showcasing the King's memorabilia is being considered on the premises.
Details about the expansion proposed for the 128-room hotel were not available Thursday.
Weinshanker was in Memphis on Thursday meeting with local architects to map out the Graceland plans. He said the Graceland-area upgrade plans have been in the pipeline for more than a year and funding is now being allocated to move the project forward.
"There's been a substantial amount of behind-the-scenes work done in the last few weeks since the deal to acquire Elvis Presley Enterprises was finalized, but we'd been contemplating what to do for months before that," Weinshanker said. "We're looking to add more things to see and more things to do indoors and give people more reasons to come here more often."
Jack Soden, the longtime chief executive officer of Elvis Presley Enterprises, will continue in his leadership role at the company. He welcomed the energy being generated by new owners.
"We've been through different periods in the last seven or eight years with various iterations of promises to build this or that, but challenges have caused most of that not to be done," Soden said. "What has us so excited now is that there is a long-term vision in place and not just a plan for quick fixes here and there. It's a real message about looking into the future and making things better."
Soden said more details about the new plans will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Branding efforts are being developed to broaden the Elvis industry around the globe and across social networking platforms.
Weinshanker will oversee the Memphis operation while Authentic Brands Group handles the global licensing and merchandising of the Elvis image.
Amid all the changes, one thing will remain the same.
"Elvis is Memphis and Memphis is Elvis. This is the mother ship and the center for all Elvis operations and that won't move from here, ever," Weinshanker said. "Elvis may have lived a few months a year in Las Vegas while he was performing or stayed in California a little while, but he always came back to his home. That was Memphis then and that's where we're going to stay."
(Contact James Dowd, a reporter for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, at email@example.com.)