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March 22,  2018   -   By Meagan Nichols  – Lead Reporter, Memphis Business Journal   /   Elvis Express Radio
In the wake of yet another delay for a proposed Graceland development, Elvis Presley Enterprises’ top exec is speaking out.

During its meeting Wednesday, March 21, the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis & Shelby County board tabled a decision on a bond issuance of up to
$20 million for a new Elvis Presley Enterprises' (EPE) 80,000-square-foot events and exhibit facility.

Though EPE's events facility is unrelated to its proposal for a 6,200-seat entertainment venue — a plan marred in controversy due to questions about whether it would violate the
FedExForum arena use and operating agreement between the city, county and Memphis Basketball (Memphis Grizzlies) — the EDGE board decided to postpone its vote.

A special EDGE meeting will be scheduled for some time before Wednesday, April 18 — the date of the next regularly scheduled board meeting — to discuss both the exhibit facility
and entertainment venue.

In light of these events, Joel Weinshanker, principal of EPE and manager of Graceland Holdings LLC, recently spoke to the Memphis Business Journal to discuss what he called
"statements of facts" about the ongoing development saga.

'We had an agreement'

“We had an agreement with the city to build a 6,200-seat arena in Whitehaven,” Weinshanker said. “This was an agreement we had with the chief operating officer of the city, that
was blessed by the mayor [of Memphis, Jim Strickland].”

Weinshanker said this allegation is supported by August 2017 emails between City COO Doug McGowen and James McLaren, a partner at Adams and Reese LLP who represents
EPE. Those emails were attached to a complaint EPE filed Nov. 15 in Chancery Court. (To read the emails, scroll to the bottom of this story).

That complaint, Elvis Presley Enterprises et al v. City of Memphis et al, asked the court to rule that using public incentives to help pay for Graceland's proposed 6,200-seat venue
would not violate the FedExForum arena use and operating agreement.
Chancellor Jim Kyle dismissed that case Feb. 15, and the City of Memphis then filed a motion to modify Kyle’s order March 7.

Weinshanker alleged the City of Memphis has repeatedly tried to delay EPE’s efforts to have a judge rule on the FedExForum agreement.

“It is in the best interest of the City of Memphis for a judge to give an order saying yes or no [on the arena use agreement],” Weinshanker said. “Because once it does, it absolves
the city of any liability.”

The head of EPE said he was willing to pay for the venue without public funding.

"We even offered that we would build the arena without any [tourism development zone] dollars," Weinshanker said. "No TDZ, no TIF."

He alleged the city even restricted EPE from proceeding with the venue project on its own.

"They told us they won't allow it to happen," Weinshanker said.

City of Memphis attorney Bruce McMullen denied the claim that the city would prevent EPE from building its venue on its own dime.

"Absolutely not," McMullen said. "If he forgets the TDZ and the TIF, anyone can build an arena. The city would love that actually. We don't have a dog in this."

The whole issue comes down to Weinshanker's desire to build the venue with public money, McMullen said.

"He wants to build it with taxpayer money, and there is a vehicle for him to do that," McMullen said. "But, we also have to look at other contracts [the city has] been involved in and
what rights we have signed over to others prior to that. You know he is free to build that building, that arena, without taxpayer money. He can build it tomorrow."

'We want to be Whitehaven's engine'

As to plans for a new EPE manufacturing facility in Whitehaven — made public last week and which McMullen called “suspicious" — a representative for EPE said it presented the
project to the city and county last August. That meeting was confirmed by the city to have been on Mayor Strickland’s schedule.

Reid Dulberger, president and CEO of EDGE, also confirmed this week his organization had talked with EPE about the manufacturing project prior to last fall.

“It got put on hold for a while. At that point, we were focused on the performance venue,” Dulberger said. “As of now, it will not factor into what this [EDGE] board does. We have two
projects in front of us that are important projects in their own rights … the 80,000-square-foot venue and the performance venue."

EPE told MBJ it halted its plans for the manufacturing facility when the controversy surrounding the entertainment venue began.

“Through my businesses and affiliates, [we] employ more than 30,000 people outside the United States, manufacturing goods,” Weinshanker said. “We have been wanting to
onshore for several years, and we have been bringing jobs back to the United States. When I took over, I fell so in love with Memphis. I felt how important it was because it was
important to Elvis. … We want to be Whitehaven’s engine.”

If these Graceland projects continue to be delayed, his company will consider other options, Weinshanker said. According to him, EPE has an open offer from a Fortune 500
company to locate a “larger, permanent Elvis structure” in Nashville.

The offer “has gotten materially better” each year, he said — but each year, EPE has turned it down.

“If [the city] delays enough, we are going to look at our resources, and we are going to have to use our resources elsewhere. It would kill me. It would kill Lisa Marie [Presley]. At the
end of the day, we are desperately trying to uplift Whitehaven,” Weinshanker said. "It has gotten to the point where if they are really able to delay us a year, two years, three years,
they are going to put us in a position where we have no choice."

If something like that were to happen, Graceland would essentially stop growing its presence in Memphis, Weinshanker said.

"[Graceland] would stay as it is, but it wouldn’t be able to expand," Weinshanker said. "We added 300,000 tourism days to the city last year — 300,000, and that is because we are
growing. There is demand for additional growth."

As for next steps, McMullen said it should not involve a judge ruling on the FedExForum agreement but rather the two parties — EPE and Grizzlies — sitting down to talk.

“The next step is the two parties need to sit down with the city and try to work out some arrangement they are both comfortable with,” McMullen said. “I can’t emphasize enough: The
administration wants both of these entities here in Memphis.”

Weinshanker's next steps may differ. Expect to see “documents submitted as part of actions” soon, he said.

“It is not the Grizzlies that lose. It is not Graceland that loses. All that is happening is the City of Memphis loses,” Weinshanker said.

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Jack Soden, Priscilla Presley, Joel Weinshaker