WREG presses city leaders about delays with Elvis Presley Blvd project in Whitehaven

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MEMPHIS, Tenn.  --  A long-promised revitalization effort for Elvis Presley Boulevard in Whitehaven hits yet another bump in the road.

The city told WREG it was starting to acquire land months ago, for the $35 million improvement project, but we've since learned, that's not true.

The News Channel 3 Investigators pressed city leaders for answers, for Whitehaven residents who say they're confused and tired of waiting.

Construction should have already started on the section of Elvis Presley Boulevard from Winchester to Brooks Road.

City leaders confirmed last November, the timeline had been delayed.

They told WREG by email and on camera, they were in the process of getting right of way from property owners.

During a November interview, Public Works Director Robert Knecht said, "Some people are much more in tune with that process. Some are a lot more challenging because they have special needs or they're wanting to see how it's going to impact their business."

But WREG has since learned, back and forth with property owners isn't the reason construction is behind.

It's because the city hasn't even started asking!

After that November interview, we filed an open records request asking how many right of way requests had been made and obtained.

The city responded late last month saying, "Per engineering, no requests have been made."

William Pilot owns a tax and bookkeeping business that sits on Elvis Presley Boulevard, south of Craft Road, right across from Dodge's Chicken.

"We're confused and we don't know what to expect," Pilot told WREG.

He's worked and lived in Whitehaven for years, and even attended planning meetings for the improvement project.

"They were talking about right of way and we would possibly lose some of the parking area we have."

With that sort of impact to his business, Pilot says he's been waiting to hear from the city.

"At the last meeting they gave us the impression that they would be doing that pretty quickly, but nothing has happened," added Pilot.

WREG sat down with Knecht this week to discuss the timeline, and get clarification on the property acquisition, and in particular, why the city said it was in the process of acquiring right of way, while in fact no requests had been made.

WREG said, "That was sort of how the picture was painted to us, we shared that with our viewers and that's not true."

Knecht responded, "Well, that was my fault for not communicating it clearly."

Knecht says there are other steps involved before contacting property owners, and the Real Estate Department, which handles that, got behind.

"Most of that is attributed to personnel transitions, people leaving and being understaffed and being able to follow through," added Knecht.

So where does the project stand now?

Knecht says they'll start calling property owners next week affected by Phase 1.

That'll be followed by a face to face visit.

Knecht says this essentially serves as the start of an invitation to negotiate.

The city will make an offer for the property, and of course the owner has the right to accept or reject.

Some might choose to get their own appraisals or delay their response.

He says they're still hoping to begin construction this summer.

Knecht added, "We made commitments, we have a plan, we're ready to purse that plan and we apologize for these unforeseen delays."

Pilot told WREG, "We're looking forward to the improvements, this is a majority black community, it's a lot of traffic and we all want this area to become a better place."

The city says roughly 27 property owners will be affected by the first phase, so that's who they're contacting.

Property owners like Pilot, who are father down the road will hear from the city as the project moves forward.

Again, once negotiations begin, depending upon the response, that could also delay construction.


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