Following is a copy of an article from The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis on the future of Graceland and EPE.
Graceland kingdom expansion hinges on public funds
Elvis Presley's Graceland kingdom would be totally transformed -- the king's mansion aside -- in a $250 million improvement plan led by CKX Inc. chief executive Robert F.X. Sillerman.
There would be a new boutique convention hotel, a potential second hotel, a new visitors center, new attractions and new shops within five years -- provided local and state governments commit to an unidentified amount of funding, as Sillerman hopes will happen within the month.
"I think they recognize that we're blessed with an attraction like Graceland. There's really nothing like it in the world," Sillerman said Friday, after it was announced that publicly traded CKX is being taken private in a buyout he's leading.
"With the kind of investment we're prepared to make, in partnership with the jurisdictions, we really could have a significant impact on the entire region.
"They recognize it and we're thrilled about it."
Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton also expressed optimism about the project, without specifically addressing the funding issue.
"This significant private investment will have a positive impact on the community as a whole, but it also dovetails into our existing efforts to further enhance the vitality of the Whitehaven community," Wharton said in a statement. "The company's commitment will facilitate our efforts to attract additional businesses and biomedical companies to the corridor and assist in the development of our aerotropolis strategy.
"We look forward to working with the company, other local officials and the people of the Whitehaven community to bring this plan to fruition."
On the city side, chief financial officer Robert Lipscomb referred questions about public funding to Mayor Willie Herenton. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
There have been ongoing talks between EPE and public officials, including a March meeting attended by Sillerman, Wharton, Herenton, Lipscomb, members of the Memphis Regional Chamber and Priscilla Presley.
Also, the City Council asked the Herenton administration to develop a plan for a Center City Commission-like board to oversee the redevelopment of the area, which includes Memphis International Airport and Brooks Road.
Although plagued by decay, the area also is home to three of the city's key industries -- distribution and logistics, medical device manufacturing and tourism and entertainment.
"We need a lot of help from the community," said Jack Soden, Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO. "It wouldn't work to think in terms of this 100-acre campus and pouring a tremendous investment in here and just hoping things work out OK for Elvis Presley Boulevard and Whitehaven.
"It all has to be integrated -- the Brooks Road initiative, Elvis Presley Boulevard, the whole community. We want to be the catalyst for just a huge rebirth, redevelopment of the whole Whitehaven area."
Sillerman, asked if government funding is essential to his plan, said, "That's exactly right."
Sillerman paid $100 million for an 85-percent stake in EPE in a deal announced in December 2004. He vowed to transform what had been run as a "family business," using a "risk-oriented and expansive approach."
During a February 2006 visit to Memphis, Sillerman talked of doubling Graceland's total of 600,000 annual visitors and said the late King of Rock and Roll's home should "take its logical place as one of the great attractions in America, like Disneyland or Universal theme parks."
Toward that goal, EPE and affiliated companies have been gobbling up real estate, and now own or control more than 100 acres around the mansion.
The companies have spent more than $13 million on property since January 2006, including a 182-unit apartment complex and former car dealership.
Friday's announcement that CKX -- which also owns rights to the Muhammad Ali name and the "American Idol" TV show -- is going private could speed up the Memphis project.
That's because while CKX goes private, an affiliated company, FX Luxury Realty LLC, would pursue the Elvis-related real estate projects around Graceland -- as well a hotel and casino development in Las Vegas.
"It was frankly too big a project for a company like CKX," said Sillerman, who built billion-dollar entertainment empires with radio stations and concert promotions. "What we have created is an opportunity for the real estate development company to do that. Assuming we have appropriate cooperation from the city, county and state, this actually should speed up the regeneration, if you will, of the area surrounding Graceland."
By David Williams
June 2, 2007