Taxpayers shouldn't have to fund Graceland expansion, mayor says

Taxpayers shouldn't have to fund Graceland expansion, mayor says

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Memphis mayor and the manager of Graceland are at odds over the use of city funds.

Mayor Jim Strickland released a statement Friday saying Joel Weinshanker--managing partner of Elvis Presley Enterprises--is criticizing City leaders simply to get more money to fund his business.

A day earlier, Weinshanker urged people at a town hall meeting to vote out city council members and Mayor Strickland. Weinshanker said the city leaders are refusing to communicate with him and help him with expanding Graceland, which he says will improve Whitehaven.

"What we rally need is to have an interaction with city government, which, at this point, they won't even speak to us because of our disagreement with the arena [FedExForum]," Weinshanker said.

Strickland released a 300-word statement Friday pushing back against Weinshanker's claims.

Strickland said the whole controversy boils down to one thing: using public money to fund a private business.

"Mr. Weinshanker wants us to direct taxpayer money that would otherwise go to services like police and fire to his business. We would have to cut City operations to enable these cash payments to a business that keeps 100 percent of the profits," Strickland said.

He also said he and his administration have met with Weinshanker more than a dozen times.

The rift has seemingly ballooned in recent months because the Strickland administration said offering city or county tax breaks to Elvis Presley Enterprises for a 5,000-6,000-seat venue would violate the terms of the lease with FedExForum--more specifically, a non-compete agreement.

Recently, the EDGE board conditionally approved added incentives for the Graceland arena, provided a court finds it legal.

Strickland said Friday that he's very happy with everything Graceland has done over the last several years. He said he's very supportive of Graceland, but he doesn't think it should receive any more cash for its entertainment facilities.

"I want the best for Memphis; I want the best for Whitehaven; I want the best for Graceland," Strickland said. "But I'm not going to compromise the budget of the city of Memphis for a private enterprise."

He said he's all for Graceland expanding those facilities, but it needs to do so on its own dollar.

"I just think the taxpayers don't need to be funding that anymore," Strickland said.

Strickland said he and his staff tried to sit down and work together with Elvis Presley Enterprises last year, but then Graceland took the matter to court.

Friday afternoon, Weinshanker released the following statement in response to the Mayor's comments.

It is unfortunate that what the mayor chose to take from last night's Whitehaven community meeting was not the deplorable road conditions, the inadequate power supply nor the lack of jobs and prospects for our residents.  For the record, we had an excellent relationship with the mayor, and his staff, even coming to an agreement that was memorialized in an email sent to our attorneys last fall agreeing for the arena to move forward.  Once Jason Wexler of the Grizzlies became aware of this, and obviously voiced his displeasure, the Mayor went silent, this was in September of last year (more than seven months ago).  On multiple occasions I tried to contact the mayor with no response. I again tried to call his cell today, which went right to voice mail.

Graceland said it needs to redevelop the site to bring more visitors to Memphis. In 1997, at the height of Graceland's popularity, the site was seeing 750,000 visitors a year. Now, Graceland says it sees about 550,000 visitors a year.

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