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State Of Graceland

March 26, 2007 | Other
What about a more pleasing view around the mansion? Planners have big ideas. For more than 20 years, Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. CEO Jack Soden has kept a file on Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. The subject of his study: Walt Disney Co.'s effort to clean up and develop the real estate around the "Happiest Place on Earth."

Disney so despised the jumbled development that grew up around Disneyland after it opened in 1955 that when Walt Disney World opened in Florida in 1971, the company persuaded the state to create a district around the resort that allowed Disney to oversee development.

Disney's real estate drama continues to this day: The company is suing the city of Anaheim to stop the construction of 1,500 condos near Disneyland. So what does Disney have to do with Elvis Presley's Graceland?

Since Graceland opened to the public in 1982, EPE and its affiliated companies have gone on a real estate binge, buying everything from gas stations to apartment complexes around the King of Rock and Roll's Whitehaven mansion. Dramatic improvements to the area -- the subject of a summit last week of EPE, city and county officials -- are coming, though details are sketchy.

"It took billions to fix what grew up around Disneyland in California and when they went to Florida, they bought 27,000 acres and assembled it before anyone knew," said Soden in a recent interview. "I've always thought if we make Graceland as big a draw as it can be, we are going to suffer if we don't control the doughnut of land around us."

Today, as Robert F.X. Sillerman, who paid $100 million for an 85 percent stake in EPE in 2005, works on plans to turn Graceland into an international attraction on par with Disneyland, EPE and its affiliates own or control about 105 acres around the mansion. For a little perspective, the Memphis Zoo sits on roughly 70 acres.

Since January 2006, EPE and its affiliated companies have spent at least $13.4 million acquiring property, according to Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood's office. The properties include a 182-unit apartment complex on Craft Road behind the existing Graceland Plaza, and a former auto dealership at 3674 Elvis Presley Blvd.

Sillerman, who was in town last week to update officials on his plans for Graceland, wants to "dramatically expand" the visitors center at Graceland and expand exhibit space to showcase thousands of pieces of Elvis memorabilia that have never been seen.

Sillerman, who became a billionaire by building and selling media companies, has also indicated he could build new hotels, improve the public spaces around Graceland, create more convention space and possibly build an outdoor amphitheater. The investment could easily top $100 million and forever change the face of South Memphis.

"He put some real meat on the bones of what he had previously discussed as a concept," said Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton of the meeting. "I'll say it's comprehensive, but I can't really get into details."

On Thursday, Wharton joined Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Convention and Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane, city chief financial officer Robert Lipscomb, members of the Memphis Regional Chamber and Priscilla Presley at Graceland for a closed-door meeting with Sillerman, whose firm CKX Inc. also owns the hit television show "American Idol" and an 85 percent stake in the name, image and likeness of boxing great Muhammad Ali.

Sillerman has argued that Elvis and Ali, two of the most recognizable and enduring stars of the 20th century, are underused brands.

Sillerman has already hired Orlando, Fla.-based Bob Weis Design Island Associates to improve the area around Graceland while keeping the historic home intact.

BWDI designed "Top of the Rock," the new observation deck and interactive visitor center atop Rockefeller Center in New York. BWDI has also done master planning and exhibit work for Kennedy Space Center.

When he visited Memphis last year, Sillerman indicated that cleaning up the area around Graceland was critical and that it would probably take a public/private partnership.

"We do know that the area that Graceland sits in is not the most attractive area," he said.

"We know that that needs enhancement, if you will. Beyond that, the plans aren't specifically developed enough to know what that partnership form is going to take.

"But we do know that this is not something that Elvis Presley Enterprises and the Elvis Presley family can undertake by themselves."

Since then, civic and business leaders have committed themselves to improving the area that includes Memphis International Airport, Brooks Road and Graceland.

The Brooks Corridor has become a jarring juxtaposition of decay and prosperity. Bounded by I-240, U.S. 78, Raines Road and U.S. 61, it's also home to three key industries the city wants to promote: distribution and logistics, medical device manufacturing and tourism and entertainment.

The Memphis City Council on Tuesday asked the Herenton administration to come up with a plan for a Center City Commission-like board to oversee the redevelopment within 30 days.

"It needs to be because we have around 600,000 people, for the most part getting off at the interstate at Brooks and Elvis Presley, making their way down to Graceland," said Soden. "Every step of the way they have to be going, 'Surely we're lost.'

"A lot of them have this vision of Tara and they're coming down Elvis Presley Boulevard saying, 'It can't be here.' But, you know, Graceland tends to save the day."

Real Estate fit for a king

Since Graceland opened to the public in 1982, EPE and its affiliated companies have gone on a real estate binge, buying everything from gas stations to apartment complexes around the King of Rock and Roll's Whitehaven mansion.

In 1993, EPE purchased what is now known as Graceland Plaza, the visitors center and retail area across the street from the mansion.

In 1997, EPE bought Graceland Crossing, a neighboring shopping center with stores that featured Elvis-related items, located just north of Graceland Plaza.

In 1999, EPE bought an existing hotel near Graceland and turned it into what is known today as Elvis Presley's Heartbreak Hotel.

Since January 2006, EPE and its affiliated companies have spent at least $13.4 million acquiring property near Graceland.
Source:Commercial Appeal
mature_elvis_fan75 wrote on March 26, 2007
Sometimes i think the best thing would be if the home stayed in the family,sometimes i dont know if he would have liked people trampling through his house,graceland is not disneyland,it was the dream come true of person who turned the world upside down and shook it like its never been shook before or since!
corey3rd wrote on March 26, 2007
we were one of those people who felt they were in the wrong neighborhood when we arrived at Graceland. we were told back in Nov. 2005 how EPE had been quietly buying up the houses along the wall of Graceland with the hopes of clearing space and cleaning up the neighborhood. But there's only so much they can do to the neighborhood to upgrade it. Graceland isn't near the heart of Memphis. How much space can be cleared without Memphis losing serious business tax dollars? I just can't see Graceland competing with Disneyland. It's a nice two days to visit Graceland, Sun Studios and the other Memphis sights. But to turn it into a Disney World? Visiting Graceland can be an amazing and moving experience. I was allowed to open the front door and it was a rush. This was a place I'd seen in photos over the decades. It was amazing to explore the space. To touch the shag of the Jungle Room carpet was a rush.
Jerome wrote on March 26, 2007
mature elvisfan, I hope you're a mature person as well. Okay Elvis was/is a great artist but to say he 'shook the world like never been done before or since' maybe you're forgetting some persons in historry that are worth being mentionned in regard to 'shaking up the history'
mature_elvis_fan75 wrote on March 26, 2007
Jerome,im very aware of history and the importance of some of those who have did great things,i said shook the world as in regard to his music and what it means to our history,and yes im a mature person,havnt you notised?
Anton wrote on March 27, 2007
Business as usual, the american way. However, the Memphis boys don't always come up with good taste and this is what bothers us: it could be turned into a junkville...ghetto style if they are not careful and do not listen to professional advice, like we know they don't. Maybe EPE Mgmt should offer die-hard elvis fans the possibility to come and live near Graceland with housing at affordable discounted prices, knowing that those fans will always be around Elvis and all the stuff around there. In fact, nothing new, that's what Dismey tried to do and actually they made it work. look at Lake Buena Vista, Orlando and center of FL... Elvis fans should not have to live in motorhomes or in shacks around our King's property (is it still his?? or has Lisa and Priscilla also sold out the bricks ?)
Devon wrote on March 27, 2007
All this is well and good for Graceland and the area around it, but if you have been there lately you will see that the cost to go to Graceland and the other things there are going up in price. As they keep improveing someone will have to pay the price,that will be us the fans. There are some people that may not be able to go there if it cost to much,that would be a real shame.
see see rider wrote on March 27, 2007
Moan, Moan, Moan, Moan, Moan..is that all that anybody on this site ever does? Nobody said they was turning it into Disney Land, nobody said it was gonna change the way Graceland looks since it was said that everything INSIDE the walls of Graceland WILL NOT be touched, just outside the walls surrounding areas. I for one think it would be a vast improvement since they are gonna use the space to make more exibits which means adding more stuff that's never been seen before (such as the jumpsuit exibit). One person on here was complaning that if they did that, then they would raise the price of the tours etc..well..that could very well happen but then again..maybe not. Besides..for all those who constantly keep saying (why don't they add things we haven't seen before like clothes, jewelry and outfits etc.) well now here's your chance. Everybody wants to start jumping to conclusions before they even know what's gonna happen. Sometimes MORE is good and in this case, I couldn't agree more.
elvisimon wrote on March 27, 2007
When I visited Graceland a couple of years back I was pleased to see that it hadn't been turned into some flashing neon vegas style strip. That is my hope that any development remains tasteful and in keeping with the area. When I visit next time - hopefully - the area will still be somewhat as it was when Elvis lived there and not some kind of theme park. After all the majority of people only want to pay their respects and in a small way say thanks to the man and not take a ride on the All Shook Up Roller Coaster or whatever else may spring up as the Money Moguls try to think up other ways of taking our hard earned cash. It would seem the spirit of the Colonel lives on...?
MR61 wrote on March 28, 2007
If his house hadnt been opened to the public memphis would have been shut by now. A lot of people go there for Elvis and nothing else.The area around graceland and beale st ,main st and the waterfront needs improvement.The walk up to Sun Studios can be a bit scary sometimes theres a lot of places that ou dont feel safe in the total area needs an upgrade to make tourists feel safer (Sorry folks of Memphis you where all very kind to me on my last visit but your city doesnt feel the same.)
Mystery Rider wrote on March 29, 2007
i got it, epe is going to claim the elvis is the son of mickey and minny mouse and was stolen by the presley clan at birth, you will soon see photo,s of a young elvis before they had his large ears removed and tail cut off. they will go off on a joint adventure with walt disney and call the project Goofyland instead of a castle they will introduce the space transporter to bounce people back and forth to Jocko jackson (ex-son in law) neverland ranch Pricilla will sue and claim it was a tramatic shock and caused her lips to look like 2 giant suction cups from walt disney's giant squid
get real wrote on March 29, 2007
if they can, they should buy up everything in a 2 mile radius of Graceland. Some areas over there are such a dump.
Crawfish wrote on March 29, 2007
Whilst Graceland grounds and mansion are not touched it will NEVER be a Disneyland because as you know when you walk through those doors you are most definately in his home and not even a museum - or thats how I have always felt - the first time I went there I was so thrilled to see it as it was and not commercialised that side of the Blvd. Mind you, driving down to Graceland I don't blame EPE for buying up some of those properties - I mean how many old car lots do you need?! I don't think it would anyway, but I would hate for EPE to change it big time. Part of the charm of going to Graceland and Memphis is the Memphis feel, which also comes from the downtrodden parts of the city. To see it all 'glammed' up would not be Memphis; so tidy up the surrounds by all means guys, but then lets leave it at that. At least love it or loathe it you also get to see a little of what Elvis knew (although I don't think there were so many 'EP Motors/Graceland Motors' etc. etc.!!! :) Leave the charm and love, but have a thoroughly decent 'sweep and tidy' through the immediate areas please .... but no more!!
mature_elvis_fan75 wrote on March 30, 2007
i agree get real,some spots are a bit run down!