MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The owners of Graceland are getting serious about plans for a redevelopment project that would rejuvenate the popular Heartbreak Hotel and spruce up 100 acres surrounding Elvis Presley's home.
Robert Sillerman, owner of the "American Idol" franchise whose company CKX Inc. bought controlling interest of Elvis Presley Enterprises in 2004, said he is returning to Memphis next month to plan the tourist mecca's future.
"Our No. 1 priority is Memphis," Sillerman told The Commercial Appeal in an interview published Sunday.
Sillerman first talked about a $250 million redevelopment of the area several years ago.
At the time, work was to include demolition of the old visitors center and Heartbreak Hotel so they could be replaced with larger, better facilities.
Sillerman said next month's event will be a two-day intensive planning session. Graceland, he said, "is an extension of what we already know works.
"Heartbreak Hotel, despite the fact it was built as anything but a luxury hotel, maintains the highest occupancy of any hotel in the state of Tennessee," he said.
"What we're talking about is an extension of something that has proven to be successful that will be undertaken by the type of experts who can fulfill the vision."
Participants will include members of a master planning firm, architectural firm, design firm, "feasibility people," audio-visual experts and a project manager, he said in the telephone interview.
Sillerman said the project could be approached in phases.
"What needs to be developed first and how best we achieve maximization that pays homage to what is there," Sillerman said, "but also provide a whole new perspective on where we are going."
Although CKX and Elvis Presley Enterprises are counting on city, county and state support for items like improvements to Elvis Presley Boulevard, the street upon which Graceland is located, the planning session at Graceland will be private.
"The meeting with government officials, such as they are, will take place individually," Sillerman said.
Within 90 to 120 days after the planning session, "we'll have a very specific idea of what it is we'd like to do," he said.
The City of Memphis continues to be involved but is waiting on CKX, said Robert Lipscomb, who heads the city's Division of Housing and Community Development.
The government's role will be "to do something with Elvis Presley Boulevard," Lipscomb said. That would include widening and making the street more visually appealing.
Both Sillerman and Lipscomb cited the difficult economy, with Sillerman adding that banks aren't lending money "the way they were."
Still, said Lipscomb, the project is hardly mothballed. "A deal like this takes time. It's a huge investment on the private part and a huge investment on the city's part."
The Associated Press