Behind the Headlines – May 24, 2019

Behind the Headlines – May 24, 2019


– (female narrator)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is
made possible in part by: the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you,
thank you. – What’s next for Graceland
and Elvis Presley Enterprises? Tonight on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] I’m Eric Barnes with The Daily
Memphian thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Joel Weinshanker the managing partner of
Elvis Presley Enterprises. Thank you for being here. Along with Bill Dries, reporter
with the daily Memphian. So thank you for doing this. It’s great you’ve
been involved with I think it’s late 2013 we were talking a
little before the show that you and your group
have been involved with. – Little over five years, – Little over five years. So all kinds of
things to walk through but I want to start a
really kind of big picture and generally and I mean
a kind of goofy question but I’m gonna ask it. What is Graceland now? What is Elvis
Presley enterprises and how is it
different in Memphis than outside? Because Memphians I think
tend to think of Graceland and as the house. But it’s become much more
which we’ll talk about but outside of
Memphis what is it? ‘Cause you’re from New York
and got involved in this and got involved in all
kinds of different things, so talk about that difference of the perceptions and realities of Graceland
in its biggest sense. – It’s the second most visited
private home in America, the White House being the first, and I think the difference is that more people from Chicago would come to Graceland
than people from Memphis. And we’re actually
trying to change that because it is the center of
pop culture in the world. We get tens of thousands
of visitors from Australia, tens of thousands of visitors
from the United Kingdom and these people stay in Memphis 7, 10, 12, 14 days. So what we’re doing
is really trying to make this become
a longer destination ‘Cause you before
we got involved it was a stopover on
going to somewhere else. Going to Disney,
going to New Orleans, going to the beach
and Panama City. And what we’ve really done
even in the last three years, is we’ve added 300,000
nights additional for people who are
coming into Memphis specifically for Graceland
but then staying over. So instead of the hop
over to Nashville, hop over somewhere else, we’re making Graceland, we’re making Memphis
that destination. So it really has
become everything that was great in America
after World War II. If you think about
you know pop culture really started in America,
right after World War II, by a small number of people who weren’t old enough to have
served in the military but they were born before the
start of World War II, and they really created something
that is beloved worldwide. When people say
they love America, they’re really talking
about pop culture. – Yeah the Graceland itself now in the broadest sense
is obviously the house and people know the plane, it’s also the guest
house Graceland the big Convention
Center type hotel, and what else? I mean cause you’ve
been building and you’ve been adding. And then let’s also
talk about the movies and so on and then so again what is Graceland in
its broadest sense? – So listen it all does
start with the mansion, you know my first
group experience when I was in my young 20s I was an artist manager I was managing a band that
played the mid-south Coliseum and someone said would you
like a VIP tour Graceland. And I was a cocky manager and we were a
cocky bunch of kids and we said sure
and we had to do it very early in the morning
’cause we had to be in Nashville by noon or something like that and I was the first
one through the door they let us bring
the tour bus up, we parked behind, and walked in
through the back door and and Delta who is
still living there started yelling at me
for being there early. And after the great
moment, can’t replace that, through the tour I
became so humbled. Because you realized nobody
lived a bigger life than Elvis. No one created more,
no one changed more. I looked at all of these things that I never
connected with Elvis and it was just amazing. So it’s really I walked
out of the door saying, my mind has been blown. I know what I wanna do you
know for the rest of my life and one of those
things I wanna do is be involved with Elvis. So it revolves around
that big mansion but we built the largest hotel that’s been built in
Memphis in over 90 years. Four Diamond Award,
glowing reviews, just a great place to
stay and affordable. Everything that we do has to
be affordable for the masses. Then we built Elvis
Presley’s Memphis, a 250,000 square foot, I like to call like a
World’s Fair concept where you get to see and
do all of these things. You get obviously his
cars, his gold records, all of these things but then you also see movie
sets and television sets. We also have the best
venue in Memphis, we have the soundstage which
we started having concerts in, just about six months ago and the reviews have
been phenomenal.. – The Violent Femmes
recently were there. – The Violent Femmes absolutely
were here just recently and every artist when you
look at their Twitter, when you look at
their Instagram, they say this is the best
building we’ve played in years. – Okay and then very
briefly the the movies that your Elvis Presley
Enterprises involvement with, Christmas at
Graceland and so on, Go to that and more. So we had talked to
you know Crown Media that owns the Hallmark Channel. Hallmark is a really
interesting entity, a lot of people if you’re a fan, you watch it 30, 40 hours
a week if it appears and you see these movies
time and time again. They had something like 65 new
Christmas movies every year, but if you’re not, you say
well I get the greeting cards I guess they have a
channel it’s wonderful but when I started
investigating, I looked at it what they
did was really beautiful so we pitched him on this
concept of doing these movies, I’m very involved
from the start, I’m an executive producer
on all the films, I work with the scripts,
work with talent and what we did is not only did we want
something for Graceland but we wanted something
for all of Memphis. And it started with one movie that we filmed last year that came out Christmas time
last year around Thanksgiving. It was the number one
show of cable television of the entire week. It beat every football game, it beat every basketball game, it was one of the biggest
hallmark movies of all time, so now we have a longer deal that’s actually
getting extended again, we filmed a wedding movie
that’s gonna air next week actually, first week in June, we’ve got another
Christmas movie coming and we have more after. But part of what we did was we made the the
soft requirement that half of the movie had to be filmed
outside of Graceland. Because everything that
we do at Graceland, can’t just be for us. We don’t succeed unless
our community succeeds and our community is Whitehaven, our community is Memphis, our
community is Shelby County. So everything that we do, we have to bring jobs, we have to bring opportunities and if you look at the movies, there’re two hour
commercials for Memphis. – Yeah, Bill. – Joel, this weekend
across the street from the mansion at
Elvis Presley’s Memphis you’re going to open up
the exhibition center. You talked about
this for a long time, tell me tell me what this means and what you’ll be
able to do there. – When I looked at the
history of Memphis, you know Memphis
about 20 years ago had amazing exhibitions and it really drove millions
of people to Memphis it was really
great for the city. And we have a lot of
experience and exhibitions and honestly we also
needed more space. We get so many calls
and so many communicates for conventions and for meetings and these conventions
and meetings it’s not like someone saying
we’re going to Memphis where are we gonna
go to Memphis, we’re competing with Atlanta, we’re competing with Orlando and we’re beating them a lot. So we’re actually need, we
have a desire for more space but we wanted to bring world-
class exhibitions to Memphis, a lot of which they’ll have
an educational element. So what we’re doing is we’re actually
working with the schools and we’re gonna be bringing
in the school kids for free. Not only we’re gonna be
giving them free admission that’s an easy thing to do, we’re also gonna be facilitating
their transportation. ‘Cause often when people say
we’ll do this for school kids they say just get them here and in everyone’s minds I
think they think bus drivers and buses are waiting
behind the school all day to take the kids places and
that’s just not the reality and especially with the tight
school budgets these days there’s no money in it for them. So we’re providing
that soup-to-nuts where we’re bringing
these kids in, Muhammad Ali what a wonderful exhibition,
belongs in Memphis. You know not only was
Muhammad you know the probably the most prominent athlete
of the 20th century he was a civil-rights giant. He cared so much about civil
rights and about people that we’re bringing that in. We’re bringing in, in the fall we’re bringing in
a NASA exhibition to teach kids about space. We wanna give people hope, we want to give
people the opportunity to see what’s possible. Because with Elvis,
Elvis was born, as were all the other pop culture
revolutionaries, dirt-poor. They didn’t have enough
food to eat as a child. So these people
aspired to something and if Elvis could have done it, if Muhammad could have
done it so can you. – So the Strickland
administration and Graceland have agreed
to a development agreement for lack of a better term, that kind of sets the
terms for the other things that do you want to do
on the Graceland campus as well as manufacturing
in Whitehaven but not necessarily on
the Graceland campus. But the City Council has
delayed the vote on that is for lack of a better
term to be imprecise is the deal still
moving on that or are you in the
city still talking or are the terms what they were when you and the
administration agreed to it? – That’s a really good question, so you in the civics
and government classes I took in high school
and at university, we talked about three distinct different branches
of government. Which in Memphis really
doesn’t seem to exist so much. You know, I was… it was shared with me, some internal
correspondence between two branches of government between leaders and two
branches of government a couple of weeks ago. Where I was called petulant,
I was called a child and it was because I
was basically saying we need to bring these jobs and if we don’t
bring these jobs in, we’re bringing
them to Whitehaven, they’re gonna go somewhere else and if they go somewhere else, you’re giving less hope
to people who need it. The Strickland administration has been very
focused on downtown. And you know it’s not for
me to say good or bad, let’s just say it is what it is. But it’s really forgotten about a lot of the
other parts of Memphis and this isn’t just my opinion. Community leaders
are coming to me not just from White Haven
but from all over Memphis saying we need your help, we need to be able
to do something because we matter. and at the only time
we seem to matter is when they need our vote, and if they don’t need our vote or even they take our vote
for granted, we don’t matter. So there’s an
agreement in place, the city has responsibilities but if I were to offer
that correspondence between city government
and the city council, you’d look at it and say are they breaking the contract? – We’d love to have that, if you want to share
it with us at any point but let me let me
back up a little bit, about it so that people maybe aren’t as close
to this as we are, what’s on the table? What’s on the table if
I understand correctly is 80,000 square feet in
additional sound stages – For television
and film production. – Right, the RV park being
relocated and expanded, 30 guest cabins, retail and
exhibit spaces expanded, hangars for the
display of the Jets, and the manufacturing and
distribution facility. – And the addition to the hotel. – Okay any addition to
the hotel, thank you. And so for that
what you’re asking for some amount of incentives from or or blessed by the
city, is that correct? – Absolutely, but
here’s the reality so beyond all of the headlines beyond all of the nonsense, everything that we do,
is only comes back to us. So we have to put the money up, like with the hotel I
couldn’t get a bank in America to finance the hotel. They looked at Graceland
and said Whitehaven? They even said Memphis? We would build it, they would’ve given me the money to build an Elvis themed
hotel in Nashville, maybe downtown but
never in Whitehaven. So I actually had to put up all the guarantees
around the hotel with my personal
guarantees down to my home. So obviously it’s turned
out reasonably well but everything that we build the city and county actually
make more money to it. So they’re really
not guaranteeing we get a little bit of
the uplift in the taxes but the city and county
get the majority of it. What does that equal? So when we built the hotel, there were no guarantees so in a public TDZ let’s take the aquarium if the debt service
needed to pay from the taxes doesn’t come, the city’s on the line for it. The FedEx Forum, the
city’s on the line for it. With our TDZ because
it’s private, the only one who’s
on the line is us. – So so this is a mix
without going too deep and Bill’s written about it and people can go to
The Daily Memphian and other places to get some of the
minutiae of this but we’re talking about
changes to the TIF the funds the
incremental revenue from city and county
property taxes within the zone
around Graceland, talking about changes
to the TDZ tax revenue and talking about PILOTs, right the three main ones that Memphis and Shelby County and Tennessee use
for this company. – There’s really no
change in the TDZ, this is really about
allowing us to build, and about a small
change in the TIF. But the reality is
every time we build, more money goes in the coffers. So in 2018 just from the hotel, Memphis and Shelby County will get two and a half
million dollars more in tax revenue than they did
before we built the hotel. – Is that all property tax or is that property and sales. – And sales tax. – How much money for this next
phase things we talked about how give or take how much money are you as Elvis
Presley Enterprises, you personally, whatever however you wanna frame
that, putting up. – An additional hundred
million dollars. All of our money, there is no check being written, this is all a fallacy there is no you know
and every time we do it it’s very easy to put
on a piece of paper, Memphis and Shelby County
make more money direct. That doesn’t amount
for the indirect for everyone else coming
and staying at the Peabody, staying at the Holiday Inn, staying at the Sheraton, that doesn’t count
that direct revenue, the city and county make
money every time we do it because they share
in the wealth. – What is there, I’m
I gonna go to Bill and say it with
ten minutes here, then what is the resistance? – Jason Wexler. – OK so now we’re
gonna go to the arena. So this gets into the arena, that the non-compete
of the the FedExForum, but I thought the arena,
the mid-size arena there it falls into
this non-compete the city has with
the FedEx Forum what is it 6500, that’s
not on the table right now. Are you trying to get
it back on the table as part of this negotiation? – Not at all but Bruce McMullen, – Who is the chief legal
officer of the city. – Which is very odd, this is the largest
city in America, that doesn’t have a full-time
chief legal officer. And when you have somebody who’s a partner
in a private firm, and when you have somebody who doesn’t work for
the city all the time, you really have to question what are the issues,
what are the problems and I know that there’s
several City Council members who actually wanna
put forth a bill to require the chief legal
officer to be full-time and not have a private
practice as well. – We’ll give Bruce at some point a chance to respond to this. He’s a partner at
Baker Donelson, one of the big Tennessee firms, but back to the arena, so you think the city
is putting the arena or Jason Wexler who’s
President of the Grizzlies– – Jason from the beginning
has run the whole show. So this so Bruce has basically
stated to numerous people that no matter what
we do at Graceland Jason Wexler has
to sign off on it. So the fallacy now, is that we could somehow
turn these sound stages. There are only 20,000
square feet each and it has been reported you
can only fit by fire code about 1700 people in a
20,000 square foot building, so the the new fallacy is that we’re gonna somehow
combine these sound stages and make them into
it the evil arena. Which you know we’ve lived
up to every commitment that we’ve done everything that we’ve said we’ve
done we’ve done. When we come to the
city for a benefit, we’re not saying it’s
not like other work where we say well we’ll get
the benefit from the city and let’s raise the money. Every one of these
projects is shovel ready. The jobs are ready, I had to move some of
the jobs somewhere else because we couldn’t
be waiting any longer. – So how do you think
this is resolved? Is this is this
near being resolved? – So this is really
about the community, one of the things,
I love Memphis and let me just say that
I really do love Memphis. Elvis loved Memphis and I
totally get what he loved about it and I’ve decided from
a communal standpoint to put so a lot of my
philanthropy into Memphis. Part of what we offered
and wasn’t asked for was putting every ticket that we’re selling under
our Live Nation deal putting money and
keeping it in Whitehaven. Now when we had initially come
to an agreement with the city if we wanna back up a second, we came to an agreement
in writing with the city to allow us to build this arena. The city told us and they said we’ve read the agreement
with with the basketball team there’s no conflict, it’s a private TDZ, the
funds don’t come from there, everything’s fine and dandy. We have it in writing from
the chief operating officer, that we came to an agreement. We also were giving
money per ticket but that money they wouldn’t
let us keep in Whitehaven. So we preempted it and said we’re gonna do this for
the Live Nation deal, we’re gonna keep the money
in Whitehaven, charitable. I can also tell you listen, I always feel that you
have to give something back and my mom passed
away about a month ago and she was the most
charitable person I’ve ever met in my entire life. When at her funeral
there are pastors from three different
denominations who came just to attest to the tens
of thousands of people that she directly
helped in her lifetime. And one of the things
I’ve committed to do is doing is trying to be
as philanthropic as she, is trying to do as
much good as she would. And everything that we’re doing, we’re trying to give
back to the community. but I can’t tell you, you know can I tell
you what’s going on? Yes Jason Wexler
is running this, Jason Wexler, when
I went to Jason and said if this goes to court you know how the courts
gonna interpret it he said it’s never
gonna get to court, I’m gonna stop it
in the City Council. That’s what Jason said to me
in front of a number of people. – And we’ll reach out to Jason give him a chance
to respond to this. let me stay with Bill. – So in light of that what are your hopes for a
council decision on this because if the council
votes on it and approves it it’s a done deal. – Yes, but based upon
the correspondence, the city who has
a legal obligation to try to help push this through is actually pushing it back. So they keep on
changing our agreement, because the agreement
has to get more specific. The agreement that we had was
an outline of an agreement. Now the agreement
gets more specific. They ask us for a change,
we make a small change and then the City Council the part that’s being
controlled by the mayor basically has said now it’s
changed we have to push it back. And they keep on
trying to push it back, the intent probably is to
push it back past the election because if the
majority of Memphians really finds out what’s going on and the community
leaders at this point do. I’ve had numerous meetings
with community leaders who are all just
as fed up as I am. Looking at this and
saying, what’s stopping us? And every time they
don’t really have it the city doesn’t
have a direct excuse. So the chief operating
officer said well as it relates to the jobs, they haven’t tried, they haven’t applied
for a PILOT yet. Well our agreement was
and this was told to us the city basically
structured this said let’s do it in two parts, let’s get the Graceland
part done first and then we’ll do the PILOT. So we haven’t gotten
the Graceland part, We can’t do the Graceland part ’cause the city told us not to. The PILOT part for the jobs and then the city’s answer is, well they haven’t
pulled the PILOT yet, because we were told not to. – So you’re talking
about the jobs because the mayor has said if Graceland wants to
do the manufacturing Graceland can do the
manufacturing tomorrow. – We can’t because
the city told us that we wanted to
do it in two steps. Wasn’t our idea,
it was their idea. We have this in writing in
case anyone has forgotten. – I’ve just heard
in the last week that you’ve been talking
with Shelby County Schools about the old Graves
Elementary school that is near there–
– Correct. – what are your ideas on that? – So you know not the newest
idea in the world, Vo-Tech. But very specific Vo-Tech. So what we’re trying to do is take a closed school and work out with the
Shelby County Schools where juniors and
seniors can come now all of this, is going to
be basically paid for by us. We’re not looking for any money, we’re not looking
for any partnerships, we may get some federal dollars but we’re not… Memphis and
Shelby County not a dime. We would select them
based upon their skills because we wouldn’t be
looking for the same skill set as you know if you
look at our governor, our governor started
his own Vo-Tech because he needed more
people for his business. We would do the same thing, so we would offer
several hundred positions for Vo-Tech
within Shelby County starting with Whitehaven. Because you know what
Whitehaven is our community and if we’re successful
we would think that there are several
other prominent Memphians that would maybe help out
in their communities as well but starting in Whitehaven but go through all throughout
Memphis then Shelby County several hundred Vo-Techs, we would teach them
juniors and seniors the skills that we need. So it’s not ambiguous, it’s not well maybe
someone will hire you, we would then while
they’re in school when school day ends we would offer them several
hours a day of paid work. Because you can give
someone Vo-Tech but you know what
if they have to go and try to get a job afterwards it’s skimming into
school, people you know, the kids need money. Then once they graduate as long as they do everything
that they’re supposed to do and they graduate, they
will have a full-time job with benefits waiting for
them within Whitehaven. – Just a couple minutes left, there was a story in
the Wall Street Journal a month ago something like that, it got some attention
and got some criticism and so on locally and nationally that you all had threatened
to move Graceland if the city didn’t
you know I mean they kind of framed it as
write a check basically to buy Gracelands staying. Is moving Graceland
on the table? – No listen, the mansion’s
always going to be there but in the 21st century
if you don’t get bigger you go away. So when I had gotten there, there had been a 20-year, over a 20-year period less
and less and less people had gone to Graceland. You’d get one year, you’d
get a little bit of a bump when there was an anniversary but basically had
been a decline. And the two companies that
had been there before I weren’t putting any
money into Graceland. They weren’t building anything, they weren’t even keeping up with you know they
were just trying and they were publicly
traded companies, they were trying to pull
money out and not put money in. So what I’ve been able to do is I’ve been able to
stop that decline, we’re now on the increase so to grow Graceland we can only grow it with a
public-private partnership but what has been brought to us and still last week again is hey why don’t we
have a Graceland outpost in this place or this place. – So take that brand
to other cities and take the investment
to other cities is not up, I mean there
was a sense of like dismantling the mansion
putting on moving truck and taking away. – Never been said. – Okay, just a couple minutes.. – But offered. You
know we’d had an offer from Japan and we had an
offer in the Middle East where they actually
wanted to do that, it wasn’t we didn’t
take it seriously– – I got you.
– but it was offered. – You were involved in
lots of other things. Somewhat involved with
Prince’s licensing and so on Muhammad Ali you mentioned
I guess you own the rights and licensing. – Well we’re partners, Actually, you know I still say the
Mohammed Ali Enterprises but since he’s passed it’s
the Estate of Muhammad Ali. I’m actually a
partner with Lonnie who is his wife and we oversee the whole estate and then with Prince
it’s really about, you know Prince was a
revolutionary in his own right and when he passed away, I felt an obligation because
I was a fan and I had met him to try to help, there’s no better museum, there’s no better
organization than Graceland. So we’re actually
able to come in and secure all the
things at Paisley Park so that Prince’s
legacy has a future. – And other things,
Chia Pets is that right? I mean some of the
other things that you do over the years
from music promoter to owner of all these licenses. – I love pop culture,
I love revolutionaries, so when I had a chance, you know I own a
number of companies with consumer products
which is really where a lot of these manufacturing
jobs are gonna come from. I’ve brought other
people into the fold but a lot of them
are coming from me. So with the Chia pet in the club those are two amazing
American iconic brands. So I purchased the company
you know from Joe Pidot who was a legendary Ad man. Had built a company for 50 years and when I looked at it, one of the first
things I wanted to do is let’s bring all the
manufacturing to Memphis. – What band back
Mid-South Coliseum that you mentioned
coming through. – It was a band called Trickster and end of the Hair Metal days. – Okay and is there room, this is, we could do a
whole show on this but from your point of view you say you’re not
pushing for this arena of the mid-south Coliseum
size and all that but is there room for, a market
for an arena of that size of 6 to 7,000 seats? – Hundred percent. So what you have to remember is if you look at the shows
we’re bringing Violent Femmes and all of the other shows you know we’ve got
Pat Benatar coming we’ve got Melissa
Etheridge coming we’re gonna be doing
something really substantial with the E Street
Band that’s coming up we’re bringing people most a majority the people
are not from Memphis. They’re from out of town. So we’re bringing them in because as part of the
Graceland experience. So we’re not competing against, the only thing we’re
competing against is the Landers Center and the real great
question for Jason Wexler if you can actually get him is; Jason what is the
business relationship between the Landers Center and the and the
hoops basketball team because all of those dollars
are going to Mississippi. – Like I said we can
do a whole show on that but I thank you very much
for the quick answers, thank you Bill and thank
you for joining us, join us again next week. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]

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