Thursday, July 26, 2012

Whitehaven's "Elvis Presley Boulevard Impossible"

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 8:48 PM

In May, the Food Network show "Restaurant Impossible" and host Robert Irvine did an intervention at a family-owned, money-losing place called Pollard's Bar-B-Q on Elvis Presley Boulevard. Now Memphis is getting ready to do a $43 million makeover to the street all the way from Brooks Road to Shelby Drive.

On Thursday evening, City Councilman Harold Collins and I met for dinner at Pollard's before heading to a Whitehaven community meeting. It was the second of our before-and-after visits to Pollard's. The standard story line for "Restaurant Impossible" is admission of failure, resistance, acceptance, makeover, and tearful finale as the delighted owners see the transformation, and customers flock to the place. I can report that the restaurant decor and food are somewhat improved.

Fixing Elvis Presley Boulevard will be a lot harder.

"No offense to Pollard's," said Collins, "but I want to see some more restaurants on this street like Applebee's and Outback Steak House."

Whitehaven is a neighborhood on the edge. It is the western border of our grandly named but not so grand in fact "aerotropolis." It's the home of Graceland, which is a 15-minute drive from the rest of they city's main tourist attractions. Lately Whitehaven has been the bridesmaid to other big-ticket public-private projects that jumped the line including the Bass Pro Pyramid, the Harahan Bridge Project, Overton Square, and the Fairgrounds and Tiger Lane.

Harold Collins
  • Harold Collins
Collins says Whitehaven has average household income of $45,000, corporate citizens including FedEx, Medtronic, Smith & Nephew, and Methodist South, and deserves better. The groundbreaking for the street improvements is in November, and the work will continue in stages until 2018.

"We are preparing the bride for the wedding," he said to cheers from about 150 people, including Congressman Steve Cohen and challenger Tomeka Hart. "Then we're going to go courting."

The meeting was the third one for Whitehaven residents and businesses, and it was designed to show the kinder, gentler side of the City Engineering Division. No more"design and defend," said Engineer John Cameron. The public is invited to vote on such details as streetlight posts, sidewalk plantings, medians, and even the "compass" design in the middle of the Brooks Road intersection.

The crowd ate it up. There was applause for "LED lighting" and "mast arm signage" and a clean-up starting next week in anticipation of Elvis Week. Cameron said the street would remain open at all times, although some lanes will be closed from time to time. Trucks will continue to use the road, which is part of U.S. Highway 51. So, in theory at least, will bicycles, with shared lanes being added to the roadway. The Harahan Project, Cameron said, is separate and "they're not going to come raiding this project."

As for existing businesses that don't clean up, "I am certain pressure will be put on them," Collins said.

He plans to ask the Shelby County Commission to appropriate an additional $10 million over three years.

A makeover can only carry you so far. It's the cooking and the main fare that keeps them coming back or turns them away. Whitehaven's "Boulevard Impossible" has just begun.

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