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VOL. 129 | NO. 158 | Thursday, August 14, 2014

Graceland Expansion Ready to Rock

By Bill Dries

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After nine years of different ownership and talk of a $250 million expansion beyond Elvis Presley’s mansion, the revitalization of Graceland into a 120-acre campus gets underway Thursday, Aug. 14.

Elvis Presley Enterprises breaks ground Thursday, Aug. 14, on a 450-room hotel  near Graceland. The groundbreaking and construction marks the beginning of long-held plans to expand Graceland's Whitehaven presence beyond the walls of Graceland to at least 120 acres of land it owns.

(Courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises)

Elvis Presley Enterprises executives and city leaders break ground in Whitehaven Thursday on a $75 million, 450-room hotel to be built on the same side and with the same setback from Elvis Presley Boulevard as the mansion, which is just to the south.

It is being built on land that once housed an apartment complex Graceland bought in the mid-1990s in anticipation of such an expansion.

Those plans began to move in 2007 when CKX, a New York entertainment company that bought 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2005, announced plans for a $250 million expansion around the mansion.

When the national recession settled in for a long stay, those plans were scaled back and then shelved. Then CKX underwent its own change. It was bought in 2011 by the equity firm Apollo Global Management and rebranded as CORE Media Group. CORE was best known for pursuing a digital hologram of Presley during its short involvement.

In November 2013, Authentic Brands Group bought CORE’s 85 percent share at an undisclosed price. By this spring, its expansion plans were moving swiftly.

By the number of rooms, the hotel will be the third largest in the city of Memphis. It will include restaurants and lounges as well as a meeting and conference space and a performance center.

Elvis Presley Enterprises and city leaders hope the look of the resort-style hotel will spread to other parts of the boulevard, which is also undergoing a state and federally funded infrastructure upgrade between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive.

The hotel is phase two of a plan that so far has three phases.

The first phase was a studio building on the same side of Elvis Presley Boulevard as the mansion and hotel. It is between the two sites and houses the archives of the late entertainer with exhibit space for the public to see some of the items. It opened last week as visitors began arriving in the city for the annual Elvis Week activities.

The week marks the anniversary of Presley’s death at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977.

Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden has said the new hotel will mean the eventual demolition of the Heartbreak Hotel on the other side of the street from Graceland. The 1980s-era hotel was originally a Wilson World hotel that was later bought by Elvis Presley Enterprises and rebranded as the Heartbreak Hotel.

Soden said the hotel has served as a placeholder for the company’s long-held plans for a hotel near the mansion but will have outlived its usefulness once the new hotel is built and open to the public.

The third phase of development hasn’t been outlined as specifically as the hotel. It involves significant changes to the plaza across the street, which was a retail strip shopping center during Presley’s lifetime.

It is now the point where Graceland visitors congregate and take shuttle buses across the boulevard and up the hill to the mansion. It includes the Graceland car museum, studios for the SiriusXM Elvis radio station and shops that sell Elvis items.

The phase three plans call for demolishing the plaza and replacing it with restaurants and other attractions. It also includes building on land where Graceland bought another apartment complex behind the plaza and demolished it.

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