Graceland boss says he is not threatening to leave Memphis

This March 13, 2017 photo shows visitors getting ready to tour Graceland in Memphis, Tenn. The head of the company that controls Graceland says he is not threatening to move the Memphis, Tennessee-based tourist attraction centered on the life of singer Elvis Presley if city officials do not approve an expansion plan including tax-based incentives. (AP Photo/Beth J. Harpaz, File)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The head of the company that controls Graceland says he is not threatening to move the Memphis, Tennessee-based tourist attraction centered on the life of singer Elvis Presley, despite comments that had suggested otherwise to many fans.

The Memphis City Council is considering a $100 million expansion plan at Graceland that includes a proposal for tax-based incentives. The tourist venue includes Presley's former home, plus an entertainment complex across the street. It attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year from around the world.

Concerns about the attraction's future arose this week when Graceland Holdings managing partner Joel Weinshanker was quoted in story by The Wall Street Journal story saying he has received offers "to take every piece of wood and panel and move it," including Asia and Nashville, Tennessee, as possibilities.

Some fans and social media posts interpreted the statement as a threat to move. But Weinshanker clarified those comments in an Associated Press interview, saying Graceland has not sought out offers to move and it simply will not expand if the master plan is not approved by the council in an upcoming vote.

"Someone said it was a threat, which is incorrect," Weinshanker said by phone Wednesday. "We get offers all the time to do things. Somebody asked, 'Are people still offering you to move Graceland?' I said, 'We had an offer a week and a half ago.

"We don't have a bank going out and soliciting offers," he said.

Council members have a vote pending on Graceland's plan for its $100 million expansion. It includes new sound stages, cabins, retail space, a recreational vehicle park, and expansion of the Graceland Guest House hotel. The project would add about 250 jobs and serve as "a catalyst for redevelopment" of the Whitehaven neighborhood that surrounds Graceland, according to an outline of the deal on the City Council's website.

Some Whitehaven residents have voiced concerns about the expansion and its possible effect on the privacy of homeowners and noise from the entertainment complex.

Graceland wants to increase its portion of tax-related revenues from a tourist development zone to 65% from 50%. The city and county government's share would drop to 35%. Memphis would ask state officials for an amendment to the tourism zone to include Graceland's expansion.

Moving Graceland would likely require transporting the home-turned museum to a city without the history that is so closely attached to Presley, who lived in Memphis until he died in August 1977. Yet Weinshanker says he has received more than 40 offers from other U.S. municipalities.

"The truth is that we can't continue to expand without reasonable incentives that make sense, but we've never threatened to move Graceland," he said.

Weinshanker blamed the misunderstanding on "misdirection by a small number of politicians who don't care about the city, they care about themselves." He did not name the politicians.

Incentives for businesses have become a source of dispute in Memphis recently, after Swedish appliance maker Electrolux announced it was closing its Memphis plant by the end of 2020 and consolidating U.S. cooking manufacturing into its facility in Springfield, Tennessee. Electrolux received more than $150 million in incentives to build the plant, including about $100 million in state grants that the company is not legally required to repay.

Weinshanker says the difference between Graceland and Electrolux is that Electrolux "got a check," while Graceland seeks a percentage of tax revenue from sales.

He said Electrolux's decision to move its Memphis operations to another Tennessee city could be because "Memphis is not doing enough to teach their kids." He said he has a plan to work with schools in Whitehaven on technical education.

A vote on Graceland expansion had been expected this coming Tuesday, but it could be delayed over a disagreement over the planned sound stages, City Council Chairman Kemp Conrad said.

Council members are concerned that the amount of seating in the sound stages would approach about 6,000, which could put Graceland in competition with Memphis' main concert venue, the FedExForum.

Graceland is seeking incentives to build a separate, 6,200-seat concert arena. A lawsuit about the concert venue is ongoing, but it is not part of the expansion plan to be voted on by the council.

Conrad and other city politicians have said they never expected Graceland to move.

"No one thinks they're going to pack up and leave," Conrad said. "That's never been discussed with us. It's never been threatened. It's kind of ridiculous."

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