Nearly four decades after Elvis Presley’s untimely death, Graceland has expanded with a brand new $45 million development which had it’s grand opening on the 2nd March 2017. I plan to revisit Graceland in 2020 to mark my 10 year wedding anniversary. This time I will be taking the Aaron and Grace as well which will be fantastic. The new entertainment complex has been described by Priscilla Presley as providing “the full gamut” of the the greatest entertainer of all time.
As Priscilla cut the ribbon alongside Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden and Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of Graceland Holdings; at the pre-opening event on Thursday over 200 people streamed into “Elvis Presley’s Memphis” and were privileged to be the first to see the $45 million complex for the first time.
Resembling an outdoor mall, the 200,000-square-foot campus sits across the street from Graceland, Presley’s longtime home-turned-museum. The complex features a comprehensive Presley exhibit with clothing he wore on stage and guitars he played; a showcase of the cars he owned and used; a soundstage; a theater; two restaurants and retail stores.
“You’re getting the full gamut of who Elvis Presley was,” Priscilla Presley said during an interview after the grand opening. “You’re getting to see and participate a bit in his life and what he enjoyed and what he loved to collect.”
It’s part of a $140 million expansion, which also includes a $90 million, 450-room hotel that opened last year. The complex replaces the aging buildings that have housed Presley-related exhibits for years. An old, gray, strip-mall style visitor center will be torn down to make room for a greenspace along Elvis Presley Boulevard, the street that runs in front of the house. The new complex means that the old Heartbreak Hotel is scheduled to close and be demolished. Kate and I stayed here on our last visit in 2010 and I have to say it was past it’s sell by date.
The opening comes just before the 40th anniversary of Presley’s death on Aug. 16, 1977, at age 42.
Adults pay $57.50 for a standard tour of the house and access to the complex. Visitors can also choose to tour just the house for a lower price. Discounts are offered for seniors and children. A self-guided tour of two airplanes owned by Presley is $5 more.
From the ticketing area, people line up to wait for buses that take visitors to the museum, or they can move through the entertainment complex’s large, high-ceilinged buildings.
Gladys’ Diner – named after the singer’s mother – has the feel of a 1950s eatery, complete with pictures of Presley, aqua-colored chairs and stations where patrons can order hot dogs, burgers and ice cream.
There’s also Presley’s favorite: Gladys’ World Famous Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, fried in bacon grease. Another PB&B sandwich is cooked in butter.
Across a wide walkway lies the automobile museum, filled with some of Presley’s favorite toys. Among them is a pink 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood – a custom painted model that he gave to his mother – and a sleek, black 1973 Stutz Blackhawk that he drove the day he died.
The walkway leads to the 20,000-square foot museum called “Elvis: The Entertainer,” which features white and purple jumpsuits he wore during concerts and gold-colored guitars he played on stage.
Several retail stores line the complex. A second restaurant, a barbecue joint called Vernon’s Smokehouse – named after Presley’s father – will also open. So will an exhibition focused on Sam Phillips, the Sun Records producer and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who recorded Presley for the first time.
The complex is still being finished. Priscilla Presley said there’s a warehouse full of artifacts, ready for display.
Among the fans eager to get a glimpse at the new exhibits Thursday was Carol Carey, a retiree who made the short trip across the state line from Southaven, Mississippi, with her son.
Wearing a pink shirt with the words “Wild About Graceland” on it, Carey beamed a wide smile as she talked about the complex.
“We couldn’t wait to see it,” she said. “We’ve been here every other day, checking it out. Getting used to saying goodbye to the old, and seeing friends who are all taking pictures of everything.”