Elvis Managers Plan Graceland Overhaul
The thousands of Elvis Presley fans descending on Memphis for the 30th anniversary of his death Aug. 16 won't see much sign of it, but plans are moving along for big-time changes at Graceland.The thousands of Elvis Presley fans descending on Memphis for the 30th anniversary of his death Aug. 16 won't see much sign of it, but plans are moving along for big-time changes at Graceland.
Managers of Presley's famous home want to overhaul its tourist complex with a new visitors center bigger than a football field, a convention hotel and high-tech museum displays that can give a new, digital life to the King himself.
All it will take to bring about those wonders is $250 million or so; the total reorganization of CKX Inc., the New York-based company that controls all things Elvis; and a publicly supported facelift for Graceland's struggling neighborhood.
The obstacles are far from small, but the people behind the plans, led by CKX Chairman Robert F.X. Sillerman, have a history of putting together big deals and making money for investors. Sillerman, a multimillionaire dealer in media and entertainment assets, took over Graceland in 2005 when he bought the rights to Elvis' name and image from daughter Lisa Marie, Presley's sole heir.
Last year, Graceland took in $27 million in revenue, and the overall Elvis business brings in more than $40 million a year. That made him the second-highest grossing dead celebrity in 2006, behind only Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, according to Forbes. "As great as it is," Sillerman said after a recent visit to Graceland, "it can be so much better."
Graceland's current visitors center, souvenir shops and museums were cobbled together by renovating a small strip mall across the street from what the Elvis faithful affectionately call "the mansion." The new plans call for leveling all that and building a 80,000-square-foot visitors center designed from the ground up for handling big crowds and high-tech exhibits.
"To put that in perspective, that's about six or seven times the size of the mansion," Sillerman said. The center will be equipped for the kind of technical wizardry that allowed singer Celine Dion to recently perform what appeared to be a live duet with Elvis on the "American Idol" TV show, which CKX also owns.
For years, Elvis Presley Enterprises, now a CKX subsidiary, has been buying land for expansion and has put together 100 acres needed for the renovation, which would move the tourist center to the same side of Elvis Presley Boulevard as Graceland. No timeline for the expansion has been set.
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