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VOL. 129 | NO. 160 | Monday, August 18, 2014

Graceland Manager Maps Global Outposts

By Bill Dries

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The recession and changes over the last nine years in the companies owning 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises played a role in delaying plans for the expansion of Graceland into a 120-acre campus in Whitehaven.

“You don’t understand until you come to Graceland,” said Joel Weinshanker, majority owner of Graceland Holdings LLC, as he outlined his plans last week for an expansion of Graceland to a 120-acre campus in Whitehaven as well as expanding the Elvis brand around the world.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

But as Graceland executives and city leaders broke ground last week for the $70 million, 450-room hotel that is the beginning of that expansion, another factor emerged.

Priscilla Presley didn’t think the corporate leaders at those other companies always “got” her ex-husband’s style or relevance in their attempts to grow his brand and entertainment legacy.

“We’ve had years and years of plans, drawings, renditions,” she said Thursday, Aug. 14, at the groundbreaking. “Nothing seemed right.”

That was until the latest owners of the majority share, Authentic Brands Group LLC, brought in Joel Weinshanker, the founder and chairman of National Entertainment Collectibles Association Inc.

Weinshanker, as majority owner and partner in Graceland LLC, is the guiding force behind the expansion of the Whitehaven landmark and the global expansion of the Elvis brand.

As the manager of a band on tour in 1992, Weinshanker took a VIP tour of Graceland when the band’s tour brought them to Memphis. He didn’t expect much.

“From the moment we walked in the door, I had a much different perspective on life and everything I was doing,” Weinshanker said.

He told the several hundred fans at the groundbreaking that he walked out of the mansion humbled and impressed by Presley’s “sense of community.”

“You don’t understand until you come to Graceland,” he added.

Priscilla Presley said her goal is the expansion of Elvis Presley Enterprises in a contemporary way.

“In order for us to stay contemporary, we have to enhance. We have to make things better for you or we’ll be archaic,” she told fans. “Elvis was never archaic. He was modern. He was contemporary, and he loved edgy things.”

Weinshanker indicated that his approach to the Graceland brand worldwide will probably mean an end to emphasizing contemporary artists recording or performing Elvis songs.

“We’re not looking for another great artist’s interpretation of what they think Elvis would be but it’s really about them. Everything has to be about Elvis,” he said. “We are going to have Graceland outposts all over the world. We’re going to have Graceland outposts in Europe, in Asia, in Vegas. And really what they are meant to do in a smaller way is spread the word of Elvis.”

Weinshanker said Elvis remains a model for entertainers.

“He started that pop culture revolution. He didn’t have anyone to emulate. He didn’t have anyone to be like,” he said. “If you look at what you are seeing today – what’s edgy and contemporary – all of those roads lead from Graceland. They lead from Elvis.”

He pointed specifically to the archives studio that opened this month between the mansion and the site of the hotel.

Weinshanker bills the archives as “the best and biggest archive of any person living or dead in the world.”

After Presley’s death, in a settling of accounts with Presley’s longtime manager, Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley Enterprises bought a massive amount of material – from originals of contracts to thousands of unseen photos to the long-missing gold lamé pants that went with Presley’s iconic gold lamé jacket.

Weinshanker said the archives are a map that gives guidance on Presley’s style and how to keep his image contemporary.

“There’s over a million pieces of information, over a million documents and photos where we can actually see what Elvis did,” he said.

Priscilla Presley has also helped fill in some of the blanks, including how he originally had his eye on buying the ranch where an apartment complex was later built. The land, which Elvis Presley Enterprises then bought nearly 20 years after Presley died, is the site of the hotel to come.

She said Presley was still in the Army and had alerted his uncle to keep an eye on the land should it come up for sale. Somehow, he didn’t find out about it until someone else had bought the land and residential subdivisions were already springing up around it.

Weinshanker said the hotel is just the beginning of a 120-acre campus for Graceland in which the mansion remains as it always has.

“We’re going to continue to build. We are going to continue to give you more reasons to come to Graceland,” he added. “Because when you see what Graceland is, when you see what Elvis was all about, that’s all I need. … I have the best drug in the world, and I just need you to try it once.”

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