Graceland proposes expansion to county commissioners

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Same song, second verse.

Attorneys and executives from Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) were back in Downtown Memphis Wednesday morning.

This time, they tried to convince the Shelby County Commission to sign off on a controversial arena proposal for the Graceland campus.

This same group appeared before Memphis City Council members Tuesday, who largely expressed no support for the proposal at this time.

In front of county commissioners, however, EPE found a more receptive crowd.

Wednesday, EPE lawyers pitched a $20 million arena that seats between 5,000 to 6,000 to county commissioners.

“I'm going to support you,” Commissioner Chairman Terry Roland said. “I hope you win the court case.”

"I feel like we've created a monopoly in Shelby County that goes to one organization, and I feel like it's time we take a look at that," Commissioner David Reaves said.

EPE wants tax incentives to build the entertainment venue and said the city's lack of a smaller arena than FedExForum results in acts being sent out of state to the Landers Center in nearby Southaven, Mississippi.

However, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said it can't be built with public incentives, because it would violate a non-compete agreement between the city, county, Memphis Grizzlies, and FedExForum.

EPE filed suit, but Shelby County Chancellor Jim Kyle dismissed it February.

"The judge told us to go get approval from the city council and county commission and that's what we're in the process of doing," said EPE attorney James McLaren.

Tuesday, city council members seemed to shy away from the arena prospect given the legal conflict.

"I don't want this body to be looked at as a pawn to sweeten the pot once they go back before Chancellor Kyle," said City Councilman Berlin Boyd.

Though county commissioners were more supportive, Chair Heidi Shafer acknowledged the dispute shouldn't be overlooked.

"We have to proceed a little carefully because we do not want to in any way or form violate that non-compete agreement," Shafer said. "The Grizzlies are very important here and we've sunk a lot of money into that investment."

The city-county EDGE board has approved incentives provided a judge finds it doesn't violate the agreement.

County commissioners didn't vote on anything Wednesday, and the city didn't vote on anything Tuesday either.

Attorneys said if one body approved it and the other didn't, they would cross that bridge when they came to it.

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