A group of Whitehaven residents are preparing for a tough fight to prevent Elvis Presley Enterprises from opening a 3-D printing factory in the middle of middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods.
Their determination was demonstrated Aug. 7 when Whitehaven Community Development Corporation representatives, peacefully protesting the plan, greeted Elvis fans visiting his iconic Graceland estate.
The factory is planned for the building at Winchester Road and Graves Road that once housed Graves Elementary School. A letter of intent states that the factory would make jewelry and other collectibles.
“We are simply homeowners trying to protect our neighborhood,” said former City Court Clerk Thomas Long. “I am proud to be here representing my neighbors to let everyone know that Elvis Presley Enterprises is seeking to put a 3-D printing factory in the middle of McCorkle Road Neighborhood.”
Long said a virtual petition is available for anyone to sign, and it’s a fight that the Whitehaven CDC wants the world to know about.
“Graceland is a world-class attraction,” said Tony Jones, who led the protest with Long and Whitehaven CDC President Dr. Yvonne Nelson.
“Elvis Presley Enterprises claims to be bringing 1,000 full-time jobs in the area, paying $15 an hour. But we have heard those promises to our city before. If it is all about the jobs and training workers, build it in a commercial zone.”
Meetings and demonstrations sponsored by the Whitehaven CDC anticipate what residents claim will be an epic battle for the “soul of Whitehaven.”
“I was just contacted by the EDGE (Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County) Board telling me that the issue of re-zoning of the Graves School property is coming in the next few weeks or so,” said Memphis City Council District 3 representative and council chairwoman Patrice Robinson. “It’s going to be a big fight, but we will need to keep everyone safe and social distanced. That council meeting will be held on Zoom to give the community a chance to be heard.”
Robinson said she’s going to make it clear that schools are always zoned “residential.”
Elvis Presley Enterprises is applying for “light industrial” zoning designation. If the zoning is changed and the factory is built, it remains light industrial, Robinson said.
“On down the road, if that factory closes up and moves out, any thing can move into that space,” said Robinson. “There could be a trucking company on that property.”
The Aug. 7 demonstration was just the latest protest. Participants engaged visitors to Graceland with their message right inside of The Guesthouse at Graceland, a hotel built adjacent to the famous mansion. Some Elvis fans even signed the petition in support of homeowners.
“I’m not really educated in what’s going on here,” said one Elvis fan, who declined to give her name. “But I can understand people wanting the community where they live to remain a peaceful, residential area.”
Numerous calls and emails to Elvis Presley Enterprise from The New Tri-State Defender, requesting comment have gone unanswered.
Robinson said she, personally, feels “uncomfortable” with the project because it has changed several times.
“What the project is going to be keeps changing,” Robinson said. “First, it was going to be a technology school teaching every aspect of movie-making.
“Whitehaven residents were on board. There was going to be a warehouse, also. Now, the proposal is to change it to industrial use. It causes concern and makes me uncomfortable.”
Whitehaven CDC president Nelson said “beautiful Twinkle Town” and the surrounding area would be defaced, and property values would plummet.
“Why don’t they put it in their own backyard?” Nelson asked.
Nelson said a factory would increase traffic exponentially and create a nightmare for the McCorkle Road Community.
Jones said EPE can build on land just a mile from the proposed site on property already zoned “commercial.”
“Just a mile up Winchester Road are a number of sites where a factory could be built,” Jones said. “These are our homes, where our children and grandchildren live. We are not going to sit by and let them barge into our community and do what they want to do.”
Long urged everyone in Memphis, around the country and the world to stand with Whitehaven homeowners and call the Memphis City Council to send a message that they cannot “do as they please simply because we are a black community.”
Robinson said the issue comes down to money.
“I called the school board, and the price tag on that Graves School property is $200,000,” Robinson said. “The commercial property down the road would cost way more. It far cheaper to buy it and just have it re-zoned.”
Nelson said the Whitehaven CDC wants Elvis fans to know that outside support is needed to oppose “the ridiculous plan to put a factory and training center in the middle of a residential area.”