Weinshanker: Graceland, Whitehaven Inextricable

By Bill Dries

The single largest private business investment in Whitehaven, including a $45 million, 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex across from Graceland mansion, is an effort to establish Memphis as “the home of rock ’n’ roll” and to do it specifically where Elvis Presley made his home.

That’s what the managing partner of Graceland Holdings LLC said Monday, Aug. 15, as civic leaders formally unveiled plans for the entertainment complex to open in less than a year.

The new “Elvis: Past, Present & Future” Entertainment Complex at Graceland, opening in spring 2017 across the street from Graceland Mansion. 


“It’s really establishing Memphis as the home of rock ’n’ roll,” Joel Weinshanker said after the Monday ceremony on the site where apartment complexes and parking lots once were. “It’s not go to Nashville, go to Memphis. It’s go to Memphis, go to Memphis, go to Memphis.”

The first of the buildings are taking shape on the site already and will include restaurants, a soundstage for live music, screenings and other performances for up to 2,000 people. It will also include an exhibit on Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, with items belonging to the man who first recorded Presley moving from Nashville to Memphis.

“The records my Daddy was recording – the early blues artists – Elvis was listening to,” said Jerry Phillips, the son of the record producer. “When they got together, they were both kind of kindred spirits in their belief in what raw and real music was.”

The exhibit on Phillips will reflect not just his work with Presley, but work with other artists.

When completed in the spring of 2017, the “Elvis: Past, Present and Future” area will replace the current Graceland plaza, which will be demolished to create a greenspace or lawn bordering Elvis Presley Boulevard.

“You’re going to be able to walk in step with Elvis,” Weinshanker said. “You are going to be able to look at the things he had in a way that we’ve never been able to show you, with space we’ve never had. You are even going to be able to walk through the mansion in a much different way once this opens.”

Weinshanker did not elaborate on how the complex affects the mansion itself, other than to say there will be more details in the coming months.

The complex, combined with the $92 million Guest House and Graceland hotel and resort that opens in October, represent a $137 million expansion of Graceland that Weinshanker said had its share of naysayers.

Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland Holdings LLC, said the $137 million Graceland expansion had its share of naysayers. "The hotel was a difficult deal to finance. But we were going to do it nowhere but here."

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

“A lot of financial people and a lot of bankers told us anywhere but Whitehaven,” he said. “I never really understood that. The hotel was a difficult deal to finance. But we were going to do it nowhere but here. They told us to do it Downtown. They told us to do it in Nashville. To me, doing it where Elvis wanted us to do it, helping his neighbors … it’s not a risk. It’s the best thing we can do.”

There have been other financial forces that have put off the expansion plans that Elvis Presley Enterprises began mapping out 20 years ago. That included buying the land behind the current Graceland Plaza where the entertainment complex is now taking shape.

Robert Sillerman, of the entertainment company SFX, outlined a $250 million general expansion of the Graceland campus just before the national recession. And majority interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises changed hands several more times in the interim.

“It’s the fruition of a long-held dream,” said Jack Soden, the CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises for more than 30 years through all of the changes in ownership.

“For one reason or another, like a row of dominoes, we couldn’t get all of the pieces together,” he added. “This is a complete complement. … hand in the glove with the hotel campus and the hotel property.”

Weinshanker emphasized that Graceland is making a specific effort to hire workers at all levels, from entry level to management, from the Whitehaven ZIP code, in a drive to align Graceland more closely with the surrounding area.

Seventy percent of Graceland’s work force lives in the Whitehaven ZIP code, according to Weinshanker.

“I shouldn’t have been the first person to say I’m going to make this happen,” he said. “And I’m sure I won’t be the last person to say this is going to happen. We need to make sure this happens for our community and it’s going to uplift every part of our community. … We’re not hiring people from the outside and bringing them here. We’re hiring here. We’re hiring local.”