VOL. 131 | NO. 162 | Monday, August 15, 2016
Whitehaven’s Big Week Moves Needle on Long-Held Development Plans
By Bill Dries
The land has been cleared for quite a while where apartment complexes once stood and a big back parking lot was. You can see parts of it from the steps of Graceland.
On Monday, Aug. 15, the day that Elvis fans mark the anniversary of his death with a candlelight vigil, leaders of Elvis Presley Enterprises will announce more details of the $45 million, 200,000-square-foot Graceland West project.
Further south on Elvis Presley Boulevard, the $90 million Guest House at Graceland resort and hotel, at 450 rooms the third-largest hotel in the city, is on its way to an Oct. 27 grand opening.
Guest House is set back from the street the same as Graceland itself, and the scale promises to cement an aesthetic change in development on what is Whitehaven’s Main Street as well as a state highway.
And site preparation is already underway on the next phase of the Graceland campus expansion, Graceland West, the set of nightclubs and other attractions that will be built behind the current Graceland Plaza directly across the boulevard from the mansion.
The transformation has been a long time in coming with some of the land purchases in the mid to late 1990s.
Graceland leaders have been talking about a hotel linked to Graceland since the mansion opened for tours in the early 1980s.
Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, said at the 2014 groundbreaking for the Guest House that during the entertainer’s lifetime guests were frequently put up at a Howard Johnson’s motel north of Graceland.
After his death, as she guided the affairs of the estate, Priscilla Presley said plans for the hotel continued.
“We’ve had years and years of plans, drawings, renditions,” she said in August of 2014. “Nothing seemed right.”
The Guest House concept, which is steeped in an adapted vision from 1970s Las Vegas style décor, was developed by two Memphis architects – Greg Hnedak, the founder of Memphis-based DreamCatcher Hotels and Mark Weaver of Hnedak Bobo Group, the Memphis firm that Hnedak co-founded.
Hnedak founded the hotel brand and development company in 2011 in a career change 32 years after founding Hnedak Bobo, and established a reputation largely on the redevelopment of Downtown Memphis.
“There is only going to be one Guest House in the world,” Keith Hess, the vice president and managing director of the development said this week as workers began assembling more pieces of a look that borrows from design elements of Graceland itself.
The size of the development should appeal not only to visitors to Memphis, but Memphians themselves in a part of town with untapped retail buying power. And it promises to influence development on the boulevard in areas not controlled by Graceland.
“It’s a great shot in the arm,” said Mike Pramshafer, Guest House vice president of sales and marketing. “This does provide an opportunity for residents of the Greater Memphis area to come dine in our restaurants, come see a show in our theater, attend a meeting in our meeting space.
“It will put Whitehaven in the front of people’s minds when they are looking for something to do on a weekend or through the week.”
The restaurants at the Guest House include EP’s Country Kitchen, which has a separate kitchen from the other three food offerings. The others include a lobby lounge, a Starbucks and Delta’s Kitchen. Delta’s Kitchen is featuring locally sourced beef, poultry and pork as well as fruits, vegetables and grains.
During media tours last week by Hess and Pramshafer, workers were unloading the JBL sound system to be installed in the 464-seat theater that will host everything from business gatherings to live music concerts.
“You don’t see this kind of a theater in a hotel too often,” Hess said.
The theater is just around the corner from a ballroom with room for 900 people at tables with chairs and 1,345 for a reception. The ballroom can be divided and features 17-foot ceilings.
It’s part of 22,000 square feet of meeting space.
Between the two wings of the resort, behind the lobby entrance, is an 8,000-square-foot back lawn where a fire pit was being installed Wednesday and a swimming pool was taking shape. The area will be booked for wedding receptions and other events, with an events manager scheduling an ongoing calendar of activities around the bookings.
Hess and Pramshafer emphasized that the hotel will host local events as well as Elvis-themed events for those who come to Memphis for Graceland.
And the Guest House will run a nightly shuttle to the Beale Street entertainment district.
A separate front entrance for tour bus business includes a chandelier made in the 1950s, one of two bought for the mansion. The other chandelier is in the staircase to Graceland’s upper floor. And some of the suites are modeled after rooms on the upper floor, which is not part of the Graceland tour.
“Tremendous care went into it,” Pramshafer said. “We tried to visualize what his style and décor would be in today’s world. He had great style. This is what he would like to have in today’s society.”