The first indication of changes to come along Elvis Presley Boulevard between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive will be surveyors working in the area as it begins the annual tourism buildup to August, when Elvis fans commemorate the icon’s death.
The planning that is just beginning will eventually complement a new plan for an overhaul of Graceland by CKX, the company that owns 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises.CKX CEO Bob Sillerman has proposed leaving Graceland as it is, but relocating the plaza where visitors board buses from the west side of the street to the same side as Graceland. The current plaza area would be developed as an entertainment district with restaurants, hotels and other attractions.Sillerman proposed a general outline of his plans for Graceland in 2007. But CKX has indicated since then in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that those plans could change at least in their timing because of the economy.Sillerman has met with city officials and insisted he remains committed to transforming the area.
Based on that, the Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration has come up with $250,000 to begin planning for the improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard.Wharton wants to have city commitments ready by July 1.“We’re trying to get a running start on this,” city engineer Wain Gaskins told a crowd of more than 200 people last month at the Whitehaven Community Center. “We are not very far into the process.”The surveyors will take the city’s planning a step further. Gaskins said consultants will begin this month talking with business owners along the corridor about possibly moving utilities. Underground power lines are one possibility to eliminate power lines and poles.The Rev. Lester Baskin of Middle Baptist Church was among those listening intently in the community center gymnasium and looking over renderings that Gaskins said are just ideas and not necessarily what the final plan will look like.Baskin said he favors coordinated commercial development along the boulevard.“I have been in this area for about 40 years and I would like to see it become more and more,” he said. “I know that whoever comes to Memphis, you have to come to Whitehaven because the airport is in Whitehaven. FedEx is Whitehaven. UPS is Whitehaven. There are so many other places.”
Elvis Presley Boulevard is also part of a highway with state and federal designations. Because of that, the city hopes to draw $2 million in state and federal funding toward the public project. No city funding is available for construction because there is no plan.The first phase would be the boulevard’s southern end from Shelby Drive to Craft Road. Phase two is from Craft to Winchester Road. And the third phase is from Winchester to Brooks Road.Gaskins said the Interstate 55 interchange, north of Brooks, needs an overhaul but is a “separate project” the city will tackle at some later date. The Tennessee Department of Transportation is doing an interchange modification study, he added.“It’s too much to handle in one bite,” Gaskins said of including the interchange in the boulevard project.