Week of March 11, 2002
Snapshot from the Field
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A Hunka-Hunka Concept:
$517 Million Elvis Ranch Would Span 802 AcresBy JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing
WALLS, Miss. - Elvis lives . . . in real estate. Yes, the King has been sighted, this time in the form of a proposed 802-acre (321-hectare), US$517 million destination resort in Walls, Miss., five miles (eight kilometers) south of Memphis, Tenn.
It's Elvis Presley Ranch, as developers backing the complex have dubbed it. And that's true . . . sort of. Presley once owned the 157-acre (63-hectare) Circle G Ranch that's part of the proposed site.
More definitely true, some observers feel, is the project's well-above-average wackiness quotient. A plan submitted to the DeSoto County Planning Commission, for example, includes a Go Kart racing complex, two hotels and a convention center, 650 "luxury condominiums" (tentatively priced from $600,000 to $1.2 million), three wedding chapels and a number of "honeymoon cottages." Not to mention the proposed Elvis museum, two golf courses, a "family entertainment center," a retail center, restaurants and a concert auditorium.
In addition, project plans suggest that trophy space lives - at least when you're talkin' Elvis. A reproduction of the White House is part of the master design, as is a replica of the 53,000-sq.-ft. (4,440-sq.-m.) "Elvis dream house" (which Presley, incidentally, never got around to building).
Rezoning Unanimously ApprovedImprobable as it may sound, the Presley Ranch is moving forward.
Earlier this month, the DeSoto County Planning Commission unanimously recommended rezoning the acreage from agricultural/agricultural-residential to planned unit development.
"We're looking forward to building a premier resort destination that Elvis fans and visitors will enjoy coming to year after year," developer J.D. Stacy told the Planning Commission's packed-house meeting. Stacy, vice president of development with Atlanta-based EPR Enterprises, holds options on the rezoned acreage, including the old Presley property.
Some local residents are enthused about the project's commercial prospects.
Don Wilkinson, Horn Lake Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, told The Commercial Appeal that the development "is the biggest thing to hit Mississippi since Nissan. I think it's even bigger than Nissan, because the car plant won't pay taxes for years and years. These people will be paying taxes immediately on completion." Some industry observers, however, will surely question that comparison. After all, the $950 million plant in Madison County that Nissan announced in late 2000 will employ 4,000 workers. (See Nov. 13, 2000, Blockbuster Deal of the Week, "Nissan Driving $950 Million, 4,000-Employee Plant to Mississippi Delta.")
Stacy, however, has used very big numbers in painting the project's potential. "We expect to have 75,000 visitors a day," he told the Horn Lake Area Chamber of Commerce last month.
Suspicious MindsThe Presley Ranch, nonetheless, has some folks all shook up.
In addition, some residents living near the proposed development see the project as nothing but a hound dog. Traffic congestion and development would destroy their rural lifestyle, they told the Planning Commission.
And not all local officials are sold on the project. Several voiced concerns at the Planning Commission meeting. "I'm looking at this as a work in progress," said Michael Garriga, who heads DeSoto County planning. "The rezoning is just the first step."
Replied Stacy, "We will continue to work with local and state officials on our development plans to ensure we have the input of all parties involved as we begin to make Elvis Presley Ranch a reality."
The Squabble over EP's NameUnpleasant input can be expected from Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), which oversees the use of Presley's name.
Stacy said his attorneys had advised that the project doesn't need EPE's permission, since Elvis once owned part of the land.
EPE President Jack Soden differs sharply. "If he thinks he's entitled to exploit a trademarked, copyrighted name just because Elvis Presley owned that farm for a short period of time, [that] is a shaky legal situation," Soden said.
EPE has exercised tight control over the use of Presley's name, protecting sales at Graceland, Elvis's Memphis home. One of its rare approvals resulted in Elvis Presley's Memphis. The restaurant/concert hall's menu includes "the Hunka-Hunka Burger" and, of course, that legendary delicacy, "The Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich."
EPE has also recently granted approval to what, in this year of the euro, seems to be "the Elvo." Elvis's face is replacing George Washington's visage on some 2002 Tennessee quarters. The International Collector's Society is manufacturing the coins, which superimpose Presley's color portrait over Washington's face. Elvos will be sold as souvenirs.
Aug. 16 Target Date for GroundbreakingMoney is also a big issue with Elvis Presley Ranch, project opponents contend. Some speakers at the Planning Commission meeting questioned whether developers had the financing to complete the project.
"We have it available, Stacy said, "it's just a matter of making a choice."
The final decision on the Presley plan rests with the county Board of Supervisors, which is expected to act in early April. In the meantime, a host of other issues must be addressed. Among them are a traffic impact study, a developer's financial responsibility statement, a parking plan and the selection of a site for the wastewater treatment plant and water tower to serve the development.
"Whatever improvements we need to make, we will work to make," vowed Zan Thompson, an architect with Atlanta-based Gresham, Smith & Partners, the project's chief planner.
Developers hope to break ground on Aug. 16, a date that strikes some as a bit macabre. The turning of the first shovel would coincide with the 25th anniversary of Elvis's death. Just to confuse matters a bit more, Elvis isn't dead. At least not according to Dr. Donald Hinton. The Kansas City-based doctor last month went public with claims that he's been treating Elvis's medical problems for the last five years.
Hinton, in fact, has just self-published The Truth about Elvis Aron Presley: In His Own Words, a book he "co-authored" with Elvis, the doctor maintains. Hinton, who's actually a licensed psychiatrist, even claims to have some of the King's DNA.
Lordy. It's all enough to evoke an observation that Elvis made in 1972, reminiscing on the uproar that initially greeted his hip-swiveling style.
"Man," Elvis mused, "I was tame compared to what they do now." Little did he know.
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