- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 6, 2015

TUPELO, Miss. (AP) - The second phase of a $6 million expansion and renovation project is set to begin at the Elvis Presley Birthplace, and officials will be visiting the Legislature on Thursday to talk about their favorite subject.

It also happens to be the 80th birthday of The King.

“Some of us will be in Jackson, while some of us will be in Tupelo helping celebrate,” said Dick Guyton, the executive director of the birthplace and museum.

Guyton said the trip to Jackson is to serve lunch to legislators and ask for funding for the birthplace. Three years ago, they successfully lobbied to get more than $2 million for the first phase of the project, which was met with a 20 percent match by the city.

Guyton hopes they’ll be generous this year, too.

“We’re looking for $1 million to finish phase two,” he said.

Phase two will add two Elvis statues to an overlook with a memorial wall and pavilion, a separate picnic pavilion, a winding walkway from the amphitheater to the overlook and steps from the parking lot that connect to the walkway.

Phase three, which will cost about another $1 million, will rework the landscaping and walkways around the lake on the property.

“We’ll be upgrading the lake, cleaning it up, adding a water feature or two and make it a more enjoyable place to sit, walk and relax,” he said. “But that’s down the road.”

Thursday’s luncheon at the Capitol will have peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and lawmakers will be serenaded by an Elvis tribute artist, of course.

“We have a lot of support from area legislators that have been our best advocates. … They’ve helped us whenever they can, and we appreciate it,” Guyton said.

He acknowledged that the birthplace isn’t the only worthwhile project that will be seeking state support. But he also said that the birthplace’s economic impact to Lee County and Mississippi is nearly immeasurable.

“We bring a lot of people here, and the longer we can keep them here with things to see and do, the more money they’ll spend here,” he said.

“We think we have at least a half-day that people can spend at the birthplace, but we’d like to keep them for dinner, keep them overnight before they head to Memphis.”

In 2012, the birthplace unveiled the first phase of the expansion, which added a 126-seat indoor theater, an amphitheater, extra parking and a face-lift for the gift shop.

The centerpiece of the phase two expansion is the bronze statues, which will stand together on the overlook.

One will be a 4-foot-high statue, representing an 11-year-old Elvis sitting on a milk crate. The other statue will be 7 feet high and will be an older Elvis in full regalia as an entertainer.

“Together, the two statues are one piece of art we call “Becoming,” Guyton said.

The 15-acre ground comprising the birthplace and museum already has a statue of Elvis, called “Elvis at 13.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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