By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON - The Mississippi House stepped on the King of Rock 'n' Roll's blue suede shoes this week.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the House defeated efforts by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, to provide $4.27 million in state bond funds to make improvements to the Elvis Presley Birthplace site in Tupelo.
Holland told the state House the Presley birthplace - operated by the Elvis Presley Foundation - is the state's No. 1 tourist attraction with about 70,000 visitors per year. But the site has never received any state funding.
"I feel strongly that the state will receive at least a six-fold return on its investment in a very short order," Holland said.
The foundation is looking to expand the birthplace, according to information it provided to Holland. The goal is to buy land near the home, develop a multi-use theater, enhance the entrance, expand the gift shop and provide other improvements, such as enhancing the overlook on the eastern end of the attraction.
People have reported that Presley, while living in Memphis as a megastar, often would visit the overlook in his hometown late at night.
The foundation, in the information provided to Holland, said its goal is to take the birthplace "from an important attraction to a major tourist destination."
The Presley Birthplace issue pitted two leaders of the House Democrats against each other.
On Thursday, House Ways and Means Chairman Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, expressed disappointment that Holland was trying to amend an $86 million bond bill, which included various projects, to include the Presley birthplace. Watson said he had committed to considering the project later in the legislative process, but wanted to meet with members of the foundation to gather more information.
"If I give my word to the gentleman, he knows it will happen," Watson said.
By a 73-43 margin, Watson prevailed and defeated the Holland amendment.
Holland, not giving up, said he planned to arrange a meeting between Watson and members of the Presley Foundation.
"This is a very significant part of the culture of Mississippi," Holland said.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.