Graceland expansion expected to bring 1,700 jobs

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - There are 130 undeveloped acres out at Graceland, and there's a king-sized plan to make Elvis' home and Whitehaven start rocking and rolling.

"What this is really about is community," said Joel Weinshanker, manager of Graceland Holdings, LLC.

Weinshanker got emotional during a town hall with Whitehaven residents Thursday night while talking about his parents, and his love for Whitehaven, a place he calls his "second home."

"You know, my parents were poor immigrants," he said. "They didn't give me a lot material-wise.  But what they did do was give a great moral compass and they really taught me what community is about."

What the Whitehaven community needs, he said, is jobs.  He unveiled a 3-year plan to create more than 1,700 jobs.  The Graceland expansion includes new exhibition space, a 6,200 seat arena, and a souvenir manufacturing factory that would employ 1,000 people.

Lifelong Whitehaven residents Geri and Gary Holmes welcome the expansion.

"Everything they've done is first class," said Geri.  "They tore down those old apartments that were shabby.  So anything they want to do is fine with me."

"Jobs for people in Whitehaven and Memphis in general," said Gary, "I'm all for that."

But many who live in Whitehaven worry the area's infrastructure can't handle the changes.

"I'm concerned with the way the road looks," one woman told Weinshanker.  "It gets a lot of traffic and they won't repave Elvis Presley Boulevard."

Getting a much-needed makeover for EP Blvd and improving Whitehaven's power grid are both priorities for Weinshanker.

He says he was so frustrated by the 40 MLGW power outages the Graceland properties experienced last year that he talked to Governor Bill Haslam about the power problems in Whitehaven.

The man who made the $92 million Guesthouse at Graceland hotel project come to fruition, said these are all things that can get fixed.

"There's no reason why Whitehaven can't come back," he said, "and can't be a wonderful place like it was with Elvis 61 years ago when Elvis moved here.  You can't succeed in life unless your community succeeds.  It's about bringing people in, and bringing people up."

Weinshanker may have Governor Haslam's ear, but he doesn't have friends at city hall.  He told the town hall crowd there is no communication between him and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

The friction apparently caused by his arena plan and the possibility it violates FedExForum's no-compete agreement.

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