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VOL. 132 | NO. 175 | Monday, September 4, 2017

Whitehaven Boom Gets Arena Catalyst

By Bill Dries

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As she looked across Elvis Presley Boulevard from the parking lot of the new Tri-State Bank headquarters at Elvis Presley and Farrow Road last week, Memphis City Council member Patrice Robinson took in the view of the new five-bay retail strip and looked north at another new strip soon to come online, and talked about a third in the works.

“The thing that we are missing now is to go ahead and get started with repaving Elvis Presley Boulevard,” she said of the five-year delay in streetscape improvements between Brooks Road and Shelby Drive. “That’s the one piece that I’d like to see come together.”

The effort got a surprise boost right after Elvis Week in August with Graceland’s announcement that it intends to build a 6,000-seat venue about where the vacant Heartbreak Hotel is awaiting demolition.

The $1 million renovation creating the new Tri-State headquarters in Whitehaven is the latest indication of the area’s economic boom by an institution whose home loans helped create the stable neighborhoods just behind the commercial development on both sides of Elvis Presley Boulevard. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

The venue is having a ripple effect well beyond Whitehaven’s upward trajectory. The announcement by Elvis Presley Enterprises comes as the city is preparing a Fairgrounds redevelopment plan that it intends to take to Nashville by the end of the year for approval.

The proposal from the administration of Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland could leave open the question of a refurbished Mid-South Coliseum – a 12,000-seat, 50-year-old arena mothballed for the last decade.

Strickland isn’t sure what Graceland’s live venue means for the future of the coliseum.

“No one has yet presented any kind of business plan for the coliseum that makes sense – not one,” he said. “And it takes more than just speaking about how great the coliseum is. You’ve got to show a business plan that makes sense. And there is still time to that.”

The administration thinks a full renovation of the coliseum would be about $30 million.

Past Fairgrounds ideas have included some downsizing of the coliseum to around the size of the Graceland venue or possibly turning it into a smaller capacity, open-air venue.

Watching the Graceland plans closely is Marvin Stockwell, co-founder of the group Friends of the Fairgrounds.

The $1 million renovation creating the new Tri-State headquarters in Whitehaven is the latest indication of the area’s economic boom by an institution whose home loans helped create the stable neighborhoods just behind the commercial development on both sides of Elvis Presley Boulevard. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

The group is looking for a broader renovation of the Fairgrounds and a coordinating role among the different tenants – current and new – on the property.

Stockwell says his groups has heard a lot of public input from neighborhoods around the Fairgrounds.

“The opportunity is right there to have a huge civic win,” he said recently. “A properly resourced and transformed Fairgrounds will be a juggernaut of an economic engine.”

The coliseum’s capacity fills a gap among indoor venues in the city between the 2,300 seats at the Orpheum Theatre and 20,000 seats at FedExForum. It’s the same gap that Graceland specifically mentioned as its target in building the $40 million facility. And that new Graceland venue is 10 miles north of Landers Center, the 10,000-seat arena in Southaven.

“We’re really going to make Graceland a destination for almost any band around the world that comes to the United States,” Graceland Holdings managing partner Joel Weinshanker told Billboard magazine in a story published the day after the annual candlelight vigil outside Graceland marking the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. “Much, much larger acts are going to be able to play at Graceland.”

A week later, Graceland leaders told city council members that the live venue will also have the capability of hosting basketball games, opening questions about a possible move of the Memphis Grizzlies D-League team Memphis Hustle, which plays at Landers.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says more announcements are coming from Graceland and Weinshanker confirmed that in the Billboard interview, saying Graceland will be building “well into the next decade and beyond.”

Robinson is among those who have lamented what the draw of Southaven’s retail venues south of the state line have meant for Whitehaven retail and other businesses. And she sees the Graceland arena as a push back.

“There is a great challenge for our community. Right now, we are driving people to Southaven, Mississippi,” Robinson said. “My mantra since I’ve been on the city council has been let’s keep our tax dollars in Whitehaven, in Memphis and Tennessee.”

Tri-State Bank could have built new, but chose instead to renovate its existing bank branch and make it the headquarters at a cost of $1 million.

“This investment has been a little more than we expected it to be,” said Lucy Shaw Henderson, the chairman of the bank’s board. “But it’s worthwhile because we are taking, and really I would say that we are also piggybacking on, what is going on in this community.”

The bank’s history of making loans for low- to moderate-income black homeowners when other banks weren’t making loans to African-American homeowners has been instrumental in the solid middle-class residential communities that are a block behind the business strip on both side of Elvis Presley Boulevard.

“They are financial incentives that you take and plow back into the community so that you continue to do that lending,” Henderson said. “We’re surrounded by people that needed to be renovated or they needed to invest or reinvest in them. That is still important to us.

“It’s who we are. We have assisted in the building of so many churches in Memphis. If you go 10 blocks you are going to find a church that we finance. All of that is still important to us.”

It is that residential stability that Robinson is also touting to investors and others, and which has prompted Strickland to tout the area’s renewal since taking office a year and a half ago.

“I think better days for Whitehaven are ahead of us,” he said outside the bank headquarters. “I think it will improve the commercial activity all the way around Whitehaven because they deserve it and financially it makes sense.”

PROPERTY SALES 51 333 19,446
MORTGAGES 68 383 22,433
BUILDING PERMITS 138 688 40,004
BANKRUPTCIES 34 238 12,486