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February 22nd,  2018   -   USA Today   /   Elvis Express Radio
A $20 million bond issue for expansion of Graceland exhibit space was held up Wednesday so city officials can analyze it.

The delay came despite assurances by Elvis Presley Enterprises that the proposal is unrelated to a previous proposal for a controversial performing arts space.

The Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County had been scheduled to consider the issue of taxable revenue bonds, less than a week after a court
dismissed Graceland’s lawsuit connected to previous proposals for a 3,500- or 6,200-seat venue.

Attorney Marty Regan, representing city chief legal officer Bruce McMullen, said the administration had short notice of the bond issue vote. Regan said based on a quick reading,
the city was concerned it might expand a Graceland development plan beyond what the City Council and Shelby County Commission previously approved.

Since the development plan is funded by special tax measures authorized by the state, Regan said, city officials don’t want to do anything that might interfere with other economic
development projects that the state might be asked to approve.

The vote was delayed until next month’s meeting or sooner, if the issue can be resolved earlier.

Attorney James McLaren, representing Graceland, argued against a delay, saying it could interfere with a goal of completing the expansion by March 2019. “I don’t anticipate any
issues with the state with respect to what we’re doing,” McLaren said.

McLaren said Graceland is stipulating that no single space in the expansion would provide seating for more than 1,700 people.

After the vote, Elvis Presley Enterprises chief executive Jack Soden said, “All delays are a problem. We’d like to be doing exhibits in the summer of 2019.”

A diagram shown to the board showed two 20,000-square-foot exhibit spaces divided by nearly 30,000 square feet of courtyard and food and beverage services. The new building
would be built west of the Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex that opened last year.

Soden said Graceland wants more “generic” exhibit space that might be used for exhibitions unrelated to Elvis and Memphis music. He said some of the attraction’s strongest years
were when Memphis was hosting the Wonders cultural series, and Graceland might want to stage Wonders-type events.

“That’s been on our list for a long time to build just generic exhibit space,” Soden said.

Board member Mark Halperin motioned for a delay but said he was sensitive to Graceland’s timeline.

“The investment Elvis Presley Enterprises has made in this community is gigantic ... (but) I think it’s important everyone be on the same page.”

Graceland’s operators put expansion plans on hold last fall and filed suit in Shelby County Chancery Court challenging a non-compete agreement with the city and the Memphis
Grizzlies. That lawsuit was dismissed a week ago by Chancellor Jim Kyle.

Graceland said the city and the Grizzlies had opposed a previous plan to use EDGE incentives for a project including a performance venue.

The non-compete clause grew out of decision by public officials to steer concert business to the FedExForum after the $250 million public arena opened in 2004.

Elvis Presley Enterprises initially proposed a 6,200-seat concert hall as part of an expansion, then changed that to a 3,500-seat multipurpose building. Graceland officials said the
Grizzlies opposed both plans.

The EDGE application says the $22 million expansion would create an estimated 40 permanent jobs and 100 construction jobs.


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