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September 27  2017   -   Memphis Daily News  /  Elvis Express Radio
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Shelby County Commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer (above) says there may be some kind of compromise still to be made when it comes to a performance venue at Graceland in

Shafer says indications from Elvis Presley Enterprises officials she’s talked with are that “there is perhaps a way to work it out collegially.”

The Memphis Grizzlies organization that runs FedExForum objected to general plans Graceland announced in August to build a $50 million, 5,000- to 6,000-seat performance venue
on its Whitehaven campus to open sometime in 2019.

The Grizzlies cited the no-compete clause in its contract with the local Sports Authority to run and manage the forum that bars city-funded venues of 5,000 seats or more, according
to attorneys for Graceland when they announced last week they were changing plans for the arena as a result.

Attorney James McLaren, representing Graceland, told the board of EDGE – Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County – that he and EDGE attorneys
were prepared to argue that the no-compete clause didn’t apply to the Graceland venue. But he said Graceland executives opted not to pursue the legal point.

Grizzlies officials declined comment earlier this week when asked to comment on the controversy.

Graceland’s new plan is a venue with a smaller seating capacity and no fixed seats. It will book Graceland-produced musical reviews exclusively and avoid national touring acts.

“I was concerned initially with the very restrictive nature of the no-compete clause,” said Shafer, who before she was elected to the commission in 2010 was part of an unsuccessful
effort in 2000 to put the financing terms of the forum to voters in a referendum.

“I do think the no-compete clause is extremely competitive,” she said, citing the Pyramid in its original form as an arena as a casualty of the clause.

Part of the deal for the clause, however, was that the Grizzlies would be responsible for any losses that might be incurred in the operation of the forum, which is owned by the city
and county through the Memphis and Shelby County Sports Authority.

“There has to be some give and take there,” Shafer said. “FedExForum is doing well and we’re very glad about that. The county is pouring millions and millions into its continued
upkeep because we have it and we want it to be a great structure. But in order to be a good partner, as the community grows and changes, we might need to make some changes
and hopefully those can be done collegially and memorialized in a contract.”

Until Graceland’s surprise announcement after Elvis Week – the annual week-long set of events marking the anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death – the idea of a performance venue
in Whitehaven, 10 miles north of the 10,000-seat Landers Center arena in Southaven, wasn’t even a consideration.

The announcement, after Graceland invested $135 million in an expansion starting last October with the opening of the $90 million Guest House at Graceland hotel-resort followed
by the March opening of the $45 million entertainment complex “Elvis Presley’s Memphis,” stoked the idea that a venue to fill the indoor gap between the Orpheum and FedExForum
was possible on the Memphis side of the state line.

“I don’t blame the FedExForum people at all for protecting their interests. But perhaps there are some ways we can massage it in there,” Shafer said of the no-compete clause. “I
don’t think any of us had really anticipated that we would get a huge beautiful resort-quality facility by Graceland. It is a long time coming and great way to capture tourist dollars.”

But at least for now, Shafer doubts the county will get involved.

“This commission’s very willing to try to hear issues, anything that is of concern,” she said. “But the sense we got is that they thought they could work it out. Government certainly isn’
t going to intrude where it doesn’t need to.”.

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