Graceland Investing $50M in New Theater to Fill Memphis Venue Gap

VOL. 132 | NO. 168 | Thursday, August 24, 2017

By Bill Dries

Updated 2:51PM

The next phase in Graceland’s expansion in Whitehaven is a $40 million to $50 million investment in a 6,000- to 7,000-seat theater and event center about where Heartbreak Hotel currently stands.

Officials with Elvis Presley Enterprises talked about the next phase during a Tuesday, Aug. 22, presentation to Memphis City Council members.

Attorney Jay Campbell said the event center, planned for an early 2019 opening, would include retail and museum areas in addition to the theater and would have an impact beyond Graceland’s footprint in Whitehaven. It would host approximately 50 events a year.

Graceland’s footprint expanded last October with the opening of the $92 million Guest House at Graceland hotel-resort and the $45 million Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex this past March.

Fans gather on Elvis Presley Boulevard during the candlelight vigil for Elvis Week. Thousands of fans from all over the world flock to Memphis for Elvis Week to honor the late musician. (Daily News Files/Houston Cofield)

Guest House at Graceland’s smaller theater hosted a concert by Joe Walsh earlier this year. Like that theater, the larger event center planned would be adaptable for various kinds of events.

“This would introduce people to Whitehaven,” Campbell told the council, adding that the theater would fill a gap among entertainment venues in the city between the 2,300 seats at the Orpheum and the 20,000 seats at FedExForum.

It’s a gap that others in the Memphis entertainment industry have talked about, including Southern Heritage Classic founder and veteran concert promoter Fred Jones Jr.

“We need to have that flexibility in our community and right now we simply don’t have it,” Jones said last week during a taping of the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines” before Graceland made its announcement Tuesday.

The indoor venue that has filled the gap in the region is the 10,000-seat Landers Center in Southaven, which is 11 miles south of Graceland on Interstate 55.

Redevelopment efforts in Whitehaven have long had to battle the retail presence south of the state line.

The new theater and other improvements would be financed by upping the percentage of property tax increment Graceland currently gets in the way of property tax growth. The incremental increase in property taxes in its tax increment financing district, or TIF, go toward paying off part of the debt to finance those improvements.

Campbell said at a later date, EPE will be asking the city council to up the percentage or flow of the increment from 50 percent to 65 percent.

Graceland would also add a $1-per-ticket surcharge on events at the theater, community events excluded, that would go to the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County (EDGE) to support economic development in the broader Whitehaven area. That would be for the life of the TIF and five years after that.

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