‘Higher Level’

New Graceland hotel resort signals neighborhood’s evolution

By Bill Dries

Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden described his job last week as conveying the excitement he feels about the coming of a 450-room hotel next door to Graceland, while tempering that with the reality that while he wants to get it done as quickly as possible, it might be done in phases.

Jack Soden, president and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, and Memphis City Councilman Harold Collins stand before a rendering of The Guest House at Graceland during last week’s public meeting.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Soden talked as the car museum in the plaza across Elvis Presley Boulevard from Graceland began to fill with more than 100 people from the Whitehaven area Thursday, May 15, for the first formal public hearing on the proposal.

The resort-style Guest House at Graceland is a $70 million project whose still-tentative plans include not only a restaurant and sports lounge with the 450 rooms, but also a performance center and meeting rooms.

The development goes to the Land Use Control Board June 12, then to the Memphis City Council.

The plan is to start site work later in June or early July, with a ceremonial groundbreaking during Elvis Week in August and a 12-month construction period.

“That’s a really ambitious construction schedule,” Soden said. “But it’s the goal right now. After waiting for years and years and years, we are going to go like a rocket sled.”

It would be the third-largest hotel in the city, and Soden said it has been on Graceland’s list since the mansion opened for tours in the early 1980s and he became CEO.

“This will take Graceland to a higher level,” Soden told the group.

The proposed Guest House at Graceland would be built on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard if Elvis Presley Enterprises gains approval.

(Rendering provided by EPE)

It also will signal an evolution in the surroundings closest to the mansion.

The new hotel eventually will replace the Heartbreak Hotel on the west side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, currently Elvis Presley Enterprises’ only hotel venture in the area.

“We’ll keep the Heartbreak Hotel functioning until the new hotel opens,” Soden said. “Sometime not too far after that, the Heartbreak Hotel will probably be taken down. … It physically, mechanically, structurally has many obsolete elements that make it unfeasible to renovate.”

The plaza directly across the boulevard from the mansion will also probably see some changes over the years as it is updated one piece at a time.

Memphis City Council member Harold Collins, who represents the area and has spearheaded the $43 million in streetscape improvements, said there also will be a development overlay that governs the look of future development.

This site plan shows the proposed Guest House at Graceland’s intersection paving that would celebrate Elvis Presley Boulevard. The property would keep many trees for its resort setting.

(Rendering provided by EPE)

“What that means is all the buildings, new buildings and new signage will go up on the boulevard and be uniform,” he said.

Soden added the hotel developers will also recruit companion businesses outside of the hotel’s boundaries to improve the business mix.

“We want to have enough of an influence … on the boulevard as the development of the property,” he said. “We don’t want to just sit by while we watch old junk be replaced with new junk.”

Elvis Presley Enterprises bought the 25 acres the hotel will occupy in the mid-1990s. It was an apartment complex that has since been demolished, leaving only the trees. A car lot and a former church building now used as offices sit between the hotel property and the northern wall of Graceland.

There is no word on how those two parcels will be affected, although Elvis Presley Enterprises applied for a $670,000 construction permit in March to build a new “studio building” on the car lot site.

Soden said the plan for the hotel site is to keep the trees and add more, with the hotel itself set back from the street at about the same distance as neighboring Graceland.

“It is truly intended to be a resort. We intend to try to save every single tree that we can, and it is about making your houses on Old Hickory even prettier,” he said, referring to the street that runs behind the future hotel, after fielding a question about whether the company might buy the homes on the street as part of the development. “We think we have been a good neighbor and will continue to be. We won’t be able to buy your house, but we may be able to improve the value.”

The properties on Old Hickory are also zoned residential with covenants that prohibit the zoning from being changed.