Graceland and Sony planning Gospel Music Show featuring Elvis Gospel Tribute

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The managing partner of Graceland Holdings LLC says the plan for a new $40 million to $50 million Whitehaven arena with 5,000 to 6,000 seats isn’t to compete with any venue in Memphis and Shelby County.

“The event center is not looking to usurp any other venues in the city and county,” Graceland Holdings CEO Joel Weinshanker told Shelby County Commissioners at a Wednesday, Sept. 6, committee session briefing on the project. “A lot of what we are going to do is create new opportunities.”

The arena, which is to open in 2019, is the latest expansion of Graceland on the 120 acres it owns in Whitehaven. It follows the construction of the $90 million, 450-room Guest House at Graceland hotel/resort and the $45 million entertainment complex known as Elvis Presley’s Memphis, which features the largest Elvis Presley museum in the world. The resort opened in October, the complex in March.

Graceland is seeking a higher percentage of the property tax increment it currently draws from the 20-year tax increment financing, or TIF, zone that is limited to the Graceland campus – specifically the 120 acres owned by Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Attorney James McLaren, representing Graceland, said the company will be taking an application in the next week to the Economic Development Growth Engine to increase its draw on the TIF from 50 percent to 65 percent. That would be the increment on city as well as county property taxes.

Weinshanker talked about the arena as being a staging point for Memphis-based productions that would then go on tour around the world from the arena and use Memphis musicians and other local talent.

He said that would start with a gospel music touring show Graceland is creating with Sony to include an Elvis gospel tribute, with the stage show being the first production at the event center.

Weinshanker never specifically mentioned FedExForum when he talked about competition, other than to say he had reviewed four years of bookings at the Downtown arena and didn’t find any shows that the Whitehaven arena would compete for.

He said the center would not go after children’s shows or similar shows that might take place during daylight hours. He also talked of “creating” shows to then go on tour from Memphis.

“Frankly we don’t have the parking to have a packed Graceland and a packed arena,” he said. “If we are going to be taking events away from anyone, it will be in Mississippi.”

Several commissioners encouraged Graceland and Forum leaders to talk to try to work out a coexistence.

“I certainly don’t feel like this is any competition whatsoever,” commissioner George Chism said.

Later Weinshanker specifically mentioned Landers Center, the 10,000-seat arena in Southaven, that has benefited from the gap in Memphis indoor venues between the 2,300 seats in The Orpheum Theatre and the nearly 20,000-seat FedExForum.

Graceland initially considered booking its annual August Elvis tribute at Landers Center last month that features a Memphis orchestra and musicians who played with Elvis as well as an Elvis vocal and video track.

“We decided to bite the bullet and lose a substantial amount of money because we are Memphis proud,” he said of instead moving the show to FedExForum.

The arena portion of the Whitehaven event center would constitute 60 percent of the space in the new building, with the rest being retail and some exhibits, McLaren said. And he told commissioners the cost of the project would be closer to $50 million than $40 million.

The venue would have a $1-per-seat surcharge on events that charge more than $15 per seat. That money would go to EDGE to be used to encourage development anywhere in Shelby County.

“Frankly, we hope it is used in Whitehaven,” McLaren said, adding that the fund can be used anywhere in the county.

Weinshanker said the event center is another part of Graceland's expansion over several years.

“The partners have put a lot of their money in,” he said. “Initially a lot of the complex is going to be funded by the partners. We have a decades-long commitment of putting tens of millions of dollars of the partners’ money into the project.”

SOURCE: Memphis Daily News

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