I assume every Elvis fan has heard by now about EPE telling OKC, the company that actually owns the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog 2, to make arrangements to remove them from the property by April 26, 2015. This has sparked such a furor on the internet, and I’ve followed it all with interest. Everybody has a theory. The most common being that it’s just two big companies fighting over money. Let’s look at some facts you probably haven’t seen on the other Elvis websites.
This is least expensive of three Graceland Ticket Packages. Note that the tour of Elvis’ two airplanes will be dropped from this package as of August 9, just before Elvis Week kicks in this year. Seems like curious timing doesn’t it? After that, if you want to see the planes on your visit to Graceland, the Tour # 2 option includes them for an additional $5.
When the planes were available on all three packages, there was no definitive way to judge how much revenue could be credited to the planes. Under this new pricing arrangement, EPE has established the value of the planes as $5 per ticket sold. Pretty good deal, huh. Yes, if you are a ticket buyer. But not for OKC that owns the planes and gets a percentage of the ticket revenue under the licensing agreement for Graceland to exhibit them.
In an ElvisBlog article last year, we looked at the Graceland tour prices back in 1993 when each attraction could be ticketed separately. Inflation plus the additional upward creep of all Graceland ticket prices would increase these numbers to 2014 levels.
So, we have an approximate price to compare to the new $5.00, and see the plane owners will face a revenue loss of approximately 60%. This adds support to one of the theories expressed on website comments – EPE dropped the bomb on OKC about their take being cut, OKC called their bluff by threatening to remove their planes, and EPE countered their bluff by saying: OK, get the planes out of here. Might have been a smart move. Realistically, where could OKC set up the planes and attract as many customers as they get at Graceland?
EPE’s letter to OKC also stated that all costs of removing the planes would be at the planes’ owners’ expense. Look at the size of the Lisa Marie. This is a big four-engine jet. To move it to a new location, portions of the wings would have to be removed so it could travel down the highway (as it did to get it to Graceland in 1984).
To move it to another city, a new engine would have to be purchased so it would fly. Three engines are in storage, the other was donated to a trade school years ago. So, OKC would face some huge moving expenses in addition to questionable ticket revenue at any location other than Graceland.
So, basically, it looks like EPE’s bluff is going to work. However, some commenters go farther and argue that EPE is trying to force OKC to sell the planes to them. Gee, do you think EPE would actually use strong-armed tactics to get control of something it wanted?
This picture is for the start of my theory that much more is going on here. It is the recently announced $70 million Guesthouse at Graceland, a 450-room luxury hotel to be built just north of Graceland on the same side of the street. It will have meeting rooms and other amenities for conventions.
There was a public hearing where the Guesthouse was introduced to the Memphis movers and shakers. On the screen is an aerial view drawing of the twenty-five acre project. Here is a look of the area as it now exists.
The guesthouse project will be inside the yellow lines. It replaces an old apartment complex and a used car dealership. Happily, very little of the tree cover will be removed.
Now look across the street at the area inside the red lines. In the top right we can see the Lisa Marie. To the left of that is the L-shaped Graceland Crossing building.
This is an old, not very appealing strip center with three stores (Harley Davidson, Everything Elvis, and Souvenirs of Elvis) and two exhibits (Private Presley and ’68 Special). Suppose EPE wanted it gone. It would be easy to move the gift shops to spaces in the new Guesthouse hotel. The two exhibits could easily be rotated into the new Graceland Archives Exhibit (see the item above the box in the Platinum Ticket Package above).
The U-shaped building below Graceland Crossing in the photo is Heartbreak Hotel. It is also quite old and contains only 128 rooms. Several websites report they have information that EPE plans to tear down Heartbreak Hotel.
So… what if the planes, Graceland Crossing, and Heartbreak Hotel were all gone. It’s not such a crazy idea. Wouldn’t EPE want something equally special just across the street from their fancy new hotel?
As far back as 2006, then EPE owner Robert Sillerman proposed an entertainment complex, restaurants, shops, an outdoor amphitheater and a spa. Maybe plans for this idea are still on the boards.
Here’s another look at all the space that could be available for such an entertainment complex. But, isn’t there some way to do it without Elvis’ airplanes going away? Well, look behind Heartbreak Hotel on the map. See the arrow pointing to the Graceland RV Park and Campground?
The RV Park and Campground sit on nineteen acres. Suppose they took five acres away and put the plane exhibit there? When you think about it, how much revenue can they be getting from space rentals for tent camping? Not anything close to what the planes would generate. And moving them to a new location on site would be a piece of cake. Just pull them with a tractor.
Of course, the fans would have to walk a bit farther to see the Lisa Marie and the Hound Dog 2. I wouldn’t mind. How about you?
So, that’s my theory. EPE gets ownership of the planes, Graceland Crossing and Heartbreak Hotel get torn down, and the planes are moved to a portion of the RV Park and Campground. Then a huge entertainment/dining complex is built across from the luxury hotel.
If you have a different theory, put it in Comments.
We’ll see what happens.
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