March 18 - Zippin Pippin Saved (And Graceland Area Too)

The mayor of Green Bay, Jim Schmitt, signed an agreement Thursday to buy Elvis Presley's favorite roller coaster during a ceremony in which the city officially acquired the rights to the Zippin Pippin.

It thrilled Elvis and countless others for years in Memphis, but the wooden roller coaster stopped running when the Memphis amusement park closed down in 2005. Now, Green Bay will pay $35,000 to acquire the name, the design, and the history of the Zippin Pippin. And they'll spend $3 million to re-create the classic ride at Bay Beach Amusement Park. Construction will begin this summer - and it's scheduled to open in May of next year.

The city has been trying to figure out what to do with the Mid-South Fairgrounds site for several years. Last year, city officials chose a plan backed by real estate developer Henry Turley to redevelop the area into a center for retail, entertainment and other purposes. But disagreements over fees have slowed that project, leading officials to consider other alternatives.
The ownership of the coaster is even in dispute.

Save Libertyland says they own it after a previous developer, Carolina Crossroads, deeded it to them. However, Mulroy said city officials told Save Libertyland to remove the coaster. When they didn't, Mulroy said, city officials claimed ownership. When asked who owned the ride, Lipscomb could only say, 'I have no idea', then added, 'If they own it, they need to get it moved'.

Graceland Redevelopment Remains A Priority

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. plans to roll out his first budget proposal next week to the Memphis City Council.

When he does, the mayor will draw on themes he has emphasized since taking office in October.

One of those is the area around Graceland. Wharton has repeatedly said redeveloping it is one of his administration’s top economic development priorities.

The statement affirms an ambitious plan to promote the Elvis brand worldwide by Robert Sillerman of CKX Inc., the media company that owns 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Since a 2005 unveiling of a $250 million blockbuster remake of the late entertainer’s Memphis home and its surroundings, Sillerman and CKX have suffered like other businesses in the worst national recession since the Great Depression.

The recession has forced Sillerman to scale back plans outside Memphis and rewrite the Memphis plans with more cautious language.

In CKX’s annual report, filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission this week, Sillerman and the company again talked of its goals for Memphis.

“The company remains committed to the Graceland redevelopment and will continue to pursue opportunities on its own or with third parties,” the report reads.

Before the last line in the annual report about CKX’s commitment to the Memphis part of its plan for the Elvis brand, CKX executives also reported, “The company has determined that there is a strong likelihood that the original preliminary design plans may require significant modifications or abandonment for a redesign due to current economic conditions and a lack of certainty as to exact scope, cost, financing plan and timing of this project.”

Sillerman has met privately with city leaders about the project. He also appeared via a video recording at a 2008 Elvis fan club gathering in Memphis.

Earlier in 2009, CKX took a $900,000 write-off on the preliminary design work for the Graceland remake. The write-off followed the failure in March 2009 by FXRE, the real estate arm of CKX, to make an annual guaranteed minimum royalty payment to EPE.

The issue was settled with a termination of the licensing agreement with EPE to develop one or more hotels at Graceland.

The hotels could still be developed through a third party. CKX still operates the Heartbreak Hotel across the street from the mansion.

In January, Wharton met with Sillerman in New York. Wharton said Sillerman told him CKX is more than committed to a revitalization of the Graceland area.

“You won’t recognize Elvis Presley Boulevard in a few years,” Wharton said earlier this year. “You won’t recognize that campus.”

Wharton also said Sillerman has groused about any doubts the SEC filings have created about his commitment to the Memphis development.

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