Editorial: Graceland Plan Ultimately Worth the Price

Saturday, December 13, 2014, Vol. 7, No. 51

The Graceland economic impact plan is a mixed bag.

But we think ultimately and clearly it is worth the investment.

The impact of just the 450-room Guest House at Graceland hotel and resort on the larger Whitehaven area is, to use an overused phrase, a game changer.

The ripple effect on what is Whitehaven’s Main Street will go far beyond the Graceland bubble in an area that is an economic engine with a lot of potential even without Graceland. Southland Mall sees very little traffic from those coming to Graceland for a visit. Yet it has a 96 percent occupancy rate.

The Elvis Presley Boulevard streetscape is getting a state and federally funded facelift after decades in which the boulevard’s origins as a country highway are still evident in too many cases.

This benefits more than Graceland.

Whitehaven’s homeowners once mounted a write-in and call-in campaign to keep a Red Lobster on the strip.

What is underway has been a long time coming with a lot of effort over a lot of years by the people of Whitehaven.

That doesn’t mean we think the city is on the right track currently to deliver on a widespread rejuvenation of the city’s midsection, which has been a goal at City Hall since Willie Herenton was in the mayor’s office.

You don’t have to go very far from Graceland to see where the city’s strategy goes off the rails. The Southbrook Mall renovation has had several incarnations, including a police precinct and library at the mall. The mall owners have rejected that as well as some prospective tenants. If ever there was an economic development undertaking to run, not walk, away from, this is it.

Perhaps there was some more bargaining to be done on the Graceland project. That doesn’t change the mammoth potential of this project for those who call Whitehaven home, for those who work in Whitehaven and for those who come from around the world just for Graceland.

The largest portion of the $76.8 million in public tax and fee revenue that goes into the financing of the project – $38.7 million – is from a 5 percent tourism surcharge on Graceland tickets and other Graceland items. It is a surcharge allowed by state law that the city could not otherwise collect in any shape, form or fashion. These are tickets and other items bought at Graceland and nowhere else.

The two sales and property tax recapture zones do not take education funding.

Yes, our elected leaders are asleep at the wheel on incentives and clinging to a model that is harming the tax base as other parts of the state succeed with different methods.

But our argument for the Graceland incentives is that the benefits of this project, much more so than the others, more than make up for our leaders not trying to cut a better deal on the tax incentives.