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Thirty years after his death, Elvis is still idolized. So what is that name worth now? To Bob Sillerman and his company, CKX, it’s worth $114 million. The Presley family sold 85 percent of the company to Sillerman because Priscilla believed that in order for the family business to grow and expand it needed a savvy investor. Sillerman, a billionaire, whose company owns the “American Idol’ franchise and the rights to Muhammad Ali’s name, was just the man for the job.

Sillerman plans include tearing down the old dilapidated 128-room Heartbreak Hotel, Graceland Plaza Visitor’s Center, souvenir shops, and museums to be replaced with new facilities. These new facilities will include a new luxury hotel of more than 500 rooms, a convention center, an amphitheater for live concerts, restaurants, retail space, a new 80,000-square-foot visitor’s center and museum adjacent to the Graceland mansion. Currently the visitor center is located across the street but will be demolished and properly relocated to make room for the new buildings. In the end the entire complex that used to take up 25 acres will grow to more than 100 acres and will take approximately three years to complete.

The redesign and redevelopment of Graceland is wonderful news to the residents of Whitehaven because such a development will bring much needed commerce and business back to the area.  Add to this the TIGER* grant and additional funds allocated by the City of Memphis and the State of Tennessee and the total budget to revamp Whitehaven equals $43 million.

While Graceland was the “hook” used to garner government support for the grant, the real winners in this are the residents of Whitehaven, especially when the political tendency is to spread out the money over the whole city for maximum effect. It’s a smart choice for Memphis to identify areas like Whitehaven that still have assets that give it the potential for economic growth.

Whitehaven, a neighborhood in Southwest Memphis has so much going for it. Its near the airport and home to Graceland (Elvis Presley’s Mansion, the Second-most visited house in the United States, the White House being the first). Whitehaven also has engaged leadership, good housing stock, key institutional anchors, involved neighborhood associations, and committed business people, but it needs government investments that strengthen its infrastructure, reward minority businesses, reinvest in its neighborhoods, and unleash confidence that things can change.

The Elvis Presley Boulevard Revitalization Program certainly addresses the purpose of the TIGER program: “preserving and creating jobs and promoting economic recovery, investing in transportation infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits, and assisting those most affected by the current economic downturn.”

The grant will begin by late 2013 and will “rebuild Elvis Presley Boulevard by relocating overhead utilities and installing landscaped or specially designed medians and new street lighting. It also would add or rebuild sidewalks, curbs and gutters and provide for upgraded crosswalks, shared vehicle-bicycle lanes and improved bus stops.”

In addition to this grant, there’s also the interest by the Aerotropolis, a project implemented to improve and connect the city to adjacent neighborhoods.  This TIGER redevelopment plan puts Whitehaven right on target to meet those needs.  There are some who suggest that Aerotropolis should only be about roads and runways, but economic development can only prosper if it is in conjunction with neighborhood redevelopment.

Connectivity is too often ignored when it comes to bringing the city back together.  And yet, connectivity runs through Sustainable Shelby and City of Choice plans, which is why it should be part of every major economic initiative.

It’s encouraging that the people working the hardest understand that the Aerotropolis concept is more than a marketing hook.  So how do we create an Aerotropolis in Memphis using the existing airport as its center but in a way that produces higher value for the neighborhoods and commercial corridors?

We do this by remembering that the streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities. They ought to be for everyone; young, old, motorist, bicyclist, walker, wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. Too many of our streets are designed around speeding cars and because of this flawed design have created creeping traffic jams.

In his 2009 campaign platform, Mayor AC Wharton said his administration would enact a ‘Complete Streets’ philosophy to include all transportation plans and neighborhood redevelopment programs. Through this initiative, every street plan must include an alternative transportation option allowing for safe, attractive, and comfortable access to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transit.

Elvis Presley Boulevard will be the president for how a successful ‘Complete Streets’ will be translated into reality.

“This is the western anchor to the Aerotropolis plan,” said Andre Dean, vice president of public policy and community affairs at the Greater Memphis Chamber. “It’s going to be huge to the overall strategy. We have a lot of large employers in this corridor. This is not just good for tourism, it’s good for industry.”

Jack Soden, the CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, agreed on the larger impact. “With the redevelopment, along with Graceland’s expected redevelopment, we believe this will be a renaissance for that community,” said Collins.

The groundbreaking for the project began in November 2012 and will be completed in three phases along Elvis Presley Boulevard from Brooks Road to Shelby Drive. Council members in support of the project said it should bring a historic amount of new capital to Whitehaven.

*Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery: part of Obama’s economic stimulus plan fund

Sources: www.thenewelvispresleyblvd.com, Action 5 News, abc24, Smart City Memphis, Memphis Daily News, Wikipedia “Graceland”, Graceland Blog