War of words heats up between Memphis and Graceland officials

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- If Elvis was alive today, he'd be able to feel the temperatures rising in talks between Memphis officials and those who operate Graceland. But he'd know there's no "hunka burning love."

"If you’re going to be mean, bitter and spiteful, usually you get that back,” Councilwoman Patrice Robinson said.

Robinson said she got a lot of calls Friday after the operator of Graceland called out her and other city officials at a community meeting Thursday night.

“Evidently they didn’t want me in the middle of it because they didn’t check to see if I could be there last night,” she said.

Graceland managing partner Joel Weinshanker gave a presentation showing development plans for the tourism destination. He talked about building an exhibition center, performance venue and even a factory to employ more than 1,000 people. But, he told the crowd of about 200 people that Memphis officials wouldn't help.

"We need an honest relationship with the city government," Weinshanker said.

Mayor Jim Strickland fired back Friday in a statement regarding Graceland's request for a Tax Increment Finance district extension:

“Mr. Weinshanker simply wants more public cash for his business.

"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.

"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."

Robinson said Council would discuss the proposal once she put it on the agenda, but didn't specify when that would happen due to impending budget discussions.

“I’m not saying no. I’m just saying I support the Mayor in his decision at this point,” Robinson said.

Shelby County Commissioner Heidi Shafer had a different take on the TIF, which she said Commission would discuss Monday at its regular meeting.

“An expanded TIF would make even more jobs and help us get that community to a more stable route,” she said of the Whitehaven area.

And though the future of this deal is still unclear, at least both officials agreed on one thing.

“Just because people are expressing different opinions doesn’t mean we can’t hit a sweet spot of the agreement," Shafer said.

“Eventually everybody will cool down and they’ll come to some agreement," Robinson said.

Weinshanker also released a statement Friday in response to the Mayor's statement:

"We have offers all the time to deploy our capital in Nashville, and in many other cities around the nation that want development. Whitehaven was Elvis’ home and our home and we would rather not do this. We need a city government that wants development. If the city government is unwilling to partner with us, the loss will be felt by our neighbors in Whitehaven and all of Memphis."