- The Washington Times - Monday, July 25, 2022

The storied Graceland home of Elvis Presley still has rubber legs from its bout with COVID-19.

CNN reported that Tennessee’s state-issued bonds tied to tourist revenue for the King of Rock and Roll’s mansion have gone into default after its number of visitors plummeted with the onset of the pandemic.

About $20 million of the originally issued $104.3 million in Graceland Project bonds have gone into default.

Some of the bonds, which were issued in 2017 by state’s Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE), were either unrated or high risk, and were intended to be paid back with sales, property and tourist taxes generated at Graceland.

Proceeds from the bonds helped fund a 200,000-square foot-expansion on the mansion that began in 2015 and opened in spring 2017. It included a 450-room hotel, an auto museum and a sound stage as well as restaurants and retail, according to a release on Graceland’s site.

CNN reported that the investment landed the historic home a Mobil four-diamond award and that operators were able to lengthen tourists’ visits at Graceland.

“Years ago, a visit was a drive-through, now we’re getting them to stay a few days,” Joel Weinshanker, the managing partner for Elvis Presley Enterprises, told the network.

But Graceland wasn’t immune from the statewide drop in tourism that saw only 75 million visitors in 2020, down from 128 million the previous year. Revenue sank with attendance at the mansion.

The Washington Times reached out to the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development to request tourism numbers for 2021.

While the new “Elvis” movie has been a box office hit and has brought more people to Graceland, there is still some debate about who is responsible for the bond defaults.

Mr. Weinshanker told CNN that the state-run agency defaulted, not his company.

But a spokeswoman for EDGE told CNN that “EDGE serves as a conduit … The Graceland bonds must be repaid from [taxes] that are all generated at Graceland.”

Her email states: “Neither EDGE, the City, [Shelby] County, the State nor any taxpayer is liable … for the repayment.”

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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