The first pieces of a massive redevelopment around Elvis’s old Circle G Ranch in Horn Lake are coming together, the project’s managing partner said Thursday.
Davage “Buddy” Runnels Jr. outlined an initial phase that includes, among other features, a welcome center, restoration of both the honeymoon cottage used by Elvis and Priscilla and the original stables, a restaurant, a “dynamic water display” with fountains on the property’s 14-acre lake and construction of a previously announced memorial to children killed in the Holocaust.
Developers of the Unknown Child Holocaust memorial are still raising funds, but Runnels said the property has been purchased and funding is in place for other work in the $3.2 million first phase. He declined to say how much he paid for the property, and Mississippi law does not require public disclosure.
Horn Lake Mayor Allen Latimer said the city has not received a plan for review, but Runnels has talked with city officials and appears to be “the real deal.”
Runnels said he hopes to make the first phase a reality within a year.
“That’s our focus right now,” said Runnels, a Mississippi native who owns Destin, Florida-based Real Estate International Inc. “We want to get that done, and the value of the land will go up exponentially once the first development happens.”
Runnels spoke at the Horn Lake Chamber of Commerce quarterly luncheon and toured the Circle G property afterward.
Eventually, with favorable economic conditions, Runnels envisions a sprawling musically themed “leisure entertainment destination” catering to Elvis fans from around the world who he believes will include the ranch as part of a visit to Graceland and Presley’s Tupelo birthplace. Hotels, an RV park, a residential component, senior living and other long-term amenities would round out more than 500 acres near the intersection of Miss. 301 and Miss. 302.
Elvis bought the ranch in the 1960s as a getaway destination that would still be near Graceland. After he and Priscilla married in 1967, they spent part of the their honeymoon at the ranch. In recent years, the honeymoon cottage and stables fell into disrepair, but Runnels wants to change all of that.
“We’re 15 minutes away from Graceland,” he noted, “and they have a 450-room hotel under construction. I may not be the smartest man in the world, but I know this (the ranch) can be part of a regional approach to attracting not just Elvis fans, but others.”
The Graceland hotel, the Guesthouse at Graceland, is scheduled to open in October.
Planners who helped with development of Disney properties have joined the Circle G team, and projections call for 160,000 visitors annually for the first phase and, eventually, up to 400,000 annually when additional phases are added.
A focal point will be the 55-foot cross next to the lake, said to be one of the features that caught Elvis’ eye when he bought the property. A chapel is planned near the lake and cross for weddings and as a relaxation point for guests. An amphitheater would eventually host concerts, and synchronized lights and fountains on the lake would entertain with music by Presley, other Mississippi artists and seasonal themes.
Latimer said Runnels has communicated regularly with city officials to make sure everything is in order as plans are developed, but the mayor didn’t know when a formal plan might be presented.
“We’re eager to see something,” Latimer said. “Everybody says he’s the one to get it done, so we’re hopeful.”