MEMPHIS, Tenn. - An attorney for Elvis Presley Enterprises went head-to-head with the City of Memphis at a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Whitehaven.
Elvis Presley Enterprises has plans in place for several major projects, including an 80,000 square foot convention center, a 6,2000-seat performance arena, and a new wing of the Guest House at Graceland, which would add 325 new rooms.
As part of the plan, Graceland says its “Made in Memphis” initiative would also bring a manufacturing plant that would employ about 1,000 people.
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Each of those projects is on hold, because of an unusual legal battle over the proposed arena.
In the City’s contract with the FedEx Forum, a clause prevents any entertainment venue from competing directly with the home of the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s currently up to a Shelby County Judge to determine whether the 6,200 seat arena in Whitehaven would violate that clause.
The City of Memphis has asked the judge to dismiss the case.
While Graceland’s attorney, Clarence Wilborn, argues public officials are not offering its support, Doug McGowen, the Chief Financial Officer for the City of Memphis, says there are other things to consider.
“We are not talking about 1000 manufacturing jobs, we’re not talking about a warehouse,” McGowan said at Wednesday’s meeting. “The only thing under consideration by the City Council is the application by Elvis Presley Enterprises for two things.”
McGowan said the City Council has already approved the convention center.
“We support that,” McGowan said. “They had to ask for permission. We think it’s a great thing.”
More complicated, though, is Graceland’s request to build the arena, due to the contract with the Forum.
“That’s the rule,” McGowan said, explaining that the City of Memphis has to uphold its agreement with the FedEx Forum.
McGowan also said Graceland is asking for a tax incentive, but hasn’t explained how the tax break will benefit Memphians or the Whitehaven committee.
Neighbors did not hold back their questions and concerns about the planned projects for city officials and Graceland Executives during the meeting.
“We want to make sure this area is done exactly the way we want it done,” one neighbor said at the microphone.
Residents who have lived in Whitehaven for years say they don’t believe Graceland has helped their community.
“You have not presented a plan at all for Whitehaven,” a neighbor said, gaining applause from the audience. “The only thing you’re speaking of developing is Graceland’s campus.”
In response, Wilborn said Graceland has already benefitted the Whitehaven neighborhood, and plans to bring more jobs to the community.
“Let’s focus on the jobs,” Wilborn said. “We can spur growth. Holiday Inn is a direct result of [the Guesthouse at Graceland]. They didn’t come in here before we did.”
Local business owners and employees asked Elvis Presley Enterprises to partner with locally- and minority-owned businesses.
“If there is a small business owner currently that has an idea, where would he send that to?” a woman asked Wilborn.
He responded he would provide contact information.
Neighbors who support Graceland’s expansion expressed frustration with public officials for allowing the project to be stalled.
“Some of you are lawyers,” one woman said, regarding the legal battle and the contract with the Forum. “Why didn’t you get it right the first time? That’s why you’re in the mess you’re in right now.”
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