A Graceland makeover?


Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The thousands of Elvis Presley fans descending on Memphis for the 30th anniversary of his death Aug. 16 won't see much sign of it, but plans are moving along for big-time changes at Graceland.

Managers of Presley's famous home want to overhaul its tourist complex - with a new visitors center bigger than a football field, a convention hotel and high-tech museum displays that can give a new, digital life to the King himself.

All it will take to bring about those wonders is $250 million or so; the total reorganization of CKX Inc., the New York-based company that controls all things Elvis; and a publicly supported facelift for Graceland's struggling neighborhood.

The obstacles are far from small, but the people behind the plans, led by CKX Chairman Robert F.X. Sillerman, have a history of putting together big deals and making money for investors.

Sillerman, a multimillionaire dealer in media and entertainment assets, took over Graceland in 2005 when he bought the rights to Elvis' name and image from daughter Lisa Marie, Presley's sole heir. When Presley died, his finances were in sad shape. Led by his ex-wife Priscilla Presley, the estate formed Elvis Presley Enterprises, opened Graceland to the public and solidified the legal rights to make money on Elvis' name and image. Last year, Graceland took in $27 million in revenue, and the overall Elvis business brings in more than $40 million a year.

That made him the second-highest grossing dead celebrity in 2006, behind only Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, according to Forbes.

Lisa Marie Presley still owns her father's house and 15 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises, but CKX controls Graceland and its sprawling complex of souvenir shops and memorabilia museums. "As great as it is,'' Sillerman said after a recent visit to Graceland, "it can be so much better.'' The big, white-columned house Presley bought in 1957 for just over $100,000 draws close to 600,000 visitors a year.

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