Council Approves Pink Palace Renovation and Elvis Presley Blvd Funding

By Bill Dries

Memphis City Council members approved Tuesday, Feb. 21, the terms of a $20 million multi-year renovation of the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and advanced $16 million in funding over two fiscal years starting this June for improvements along Elvis Presley Boulevard in Whitehaven.

The contract approved by the council with Memphis Museums Inc, a private non-profit group would require MMI to raise $10 million – half of the total – from private sources.

Like the Pink Palace renovation, there are not yet any specific plans for the improvements along Elvis Presley Boulevard between Shelby Drive and Brooks Road – the stretch of highway that includes Graceland.

Council member Harold Collins, whose district includes the mansion and the boulevard, has long complained the plans for the improvement have been continually pushed back as newer capital improvement projects elsewhere in the city have been pushed ahead.

The majority owners of Graceland and Elvis Presley Enterprises have delayed their plans for a privately-funded renovation of the mansion and its grounds to make the surrounding area more of an entertainment district.

But Collins has always maintained that the streetscape improvements can go forward and are about improvements for the Memphians who live and work along the boulevard as opposed to tourists.

“The people in this district have been waiting over 35 years to get this redeveloped,” said Collins.

However, council member Kemp Conrad, who cast the only vote against the funding, called it “a bad precedent.”

He cited smaller amounts of funding for the project in the city’s budget book of capital improvement spending from last spring’s budget season that has grown.

“It’s a very important area and it does need investment,” Conrad said. “I also think it is important to be consistent.”

Conrad questioned what other city-funded construction projects would be pushed back because of the Elvis Presley Boulevard funding.

The Pink Palace renovation contract and city matching funding of $10 million met resistance from council member Lee Harris who wanted up to $1 million of the money diverted to renovate the Mallory-Neely House in Victorian Village which is in the process of being renovated.

It and the Magevney House are also attractions maintained by MMI that have been closed for years.

Harris’ amendment was voted down by the council.

The council also approved a contract between the city and Tri-State Youth Baseball Academy Inc. to manage and operate the baseball field at Jesse Turner-Bellevue Park in South Memphis. The council approved the contract earlier this year but reconsidered and added amendments to the contract that require the administration to monitor the effect of use fees Tri-State intends to charge for scheduling games on the diamond. The council also included a study by May of city attempts to outsource other park services.

And the council approved on the first of three readings an ordinance that appears to be a reincarnation of the one-time-only 18-cent schools tax hike the council approved last year for the current fiscal year. The council approved it on first reading Tuesday as part of its consent agenda with no discussion. The caption read before the vote included no specific amount.

It was added to the agenda the same day the Wharton administration told council members in committee sessions the city budget is $17 million in the red for the current fiscal year ending June 30, with a shortfall projected at this point for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 of $47 million.

In other action, the council approved a special use permit that would expand the Memphis Union Mission to three acres to the south of its current site at Poplar Avenue and High Street.

It also approved a planned development at Sanderlin Road and White Station Road that is an expansion of the Tennis Club of Memphis to include more tennis courts, restrooms, concessions and a redesign of the pool area.

And the council rezoned the south side of Highway 64 at Highway 385 for a campus master plan for the India Cultural Center & Temple Inc.