Graceland developer wants to sell Whitehaven on vision, blames city for delay

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It sounds like a dream: an outlet mall, a factory and even a Starbucks in Whitehaven. They're all part of the very real plans of Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland Holdings.

"We've already brought 250 new jobs to Whitehaven and with further redevelopment, another 500 jobs. Then we have a manufacturing program ready to go that over time brings 1,000 jobs," Weinshanker said.

He presented at the Guesthouse at Graceland Thursday night in a public meeting meant to sell Whitehaven residents on the plans and encourage them to put pressure on local officials to support them, too.

The plans encouraged people who live in an area starved for good news.

"Hopefully we can get some info tonight to be optimistic, because I'm not optimistic the our city is going," Robert Gurley said.

The presentation included graphics of a new performance venue, film production stages and a factory that would employ 1,000 people.

"It's about a lot of the things you'd see at Graceland. It's cut-and-sew-apparel manufacturing. It's jewelry. It's 3-D printing," Weinshanker said. "It would have started in August of last year if city government would've supported it and interacted with us."

But Weinshanker said Memphis city government has derailed their efforts, based on the idea that a performance venue could compete with the FedEx forum.

Melody Poe said she wished she could hear more from elected officials.

"They're not here. That's the only thing I'm concerned about is they're not present," Poe said.

Poe and others say they were encouraged by Weinshanker's commitment to the area and his promises to work with minority characters.

"It's encouraging and inspirational as far as the community is concerned, because it has been a long time since the community has been ignored. There have been other developments going on in other areas," Poe said.

Mayor Jim Strickland responded Friday to the accusation that the city was derailing Graceland's project, saying he supports the proposed Graceland expansion — just not with public money.

"We want him to build whatever entertainment complex he wants to build. We’re excited to see it happen, in fact. But he wants to build it with your money — cash that would have to come out of our operating budget. All told, that amounts to about $3 million," Strickland said in a message to constituents.

"Let me make a finer point on it: Mr. Weinshanker wants us to direct taxpayer money that would otherwise go to services like police and fire to his business. We would have to cut City operations to enable these cash payments to a business that keeps 100 percent of the profits."

Graceland officials said the battle over the performance venue is now in the hands of a judge.

They said they were funding construction with their own money and hoped to get some tax revenues back from the government.