Elvis attraction in Vegas closes amid leasing dispute

By SALLY HO - Associated Press ,

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a woman tours an Elvis exhibition on the first day of

a woman tours an Elvis exhibition on the first day of "Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition - The Show - The Experience" at the Westgate Las Vegas hotel in Las Vegas. (Photo: AP Photo/John Locher, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — An Elvis Presley exhibit that opened at a Las Vegas casino-hotel with great fanfare last year has abruptly closed amid a leasing dispute that involves hundreds of the King's artifacts.

The Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino said it's holding the valuables from the Elvis attraction after the operator, Exhibit A Circle LLC, defaulted on its 10-year lease with the off-Strip property.

Westgate said the casino shuttered the space on Friday after it was told the operators were leaving.

"They notified us they were shutting down. We closed the facility," Westgate's chief operating officer Mark Waltrip said. "We weren't going to let them pack up in the middle of the night."

Exhibit A Circle said in a statement that Westgate violated the contract to begin with, but a company representative declined to elaborate on what the "breaches of conduct" were, citing the ongoing legal dispute. The issue is expected to be arbitrated later this year. "Exhibit a Circle...will continue to avail itself of all available legal remedies to defend its rights and to fully enforce the terms of its agreement with the Westgate," the statement said in part.

Waltrip said the attraction may no longer be financially viable because of poor marketing and promotional efforts. Westgate spent millions of dollars outfitting the space and wants to recoup money owed as part of the leasing agreement, he said.

Meanwhile, Elvis Presley Enterprises said it will seek court intervention to get back the hundreds of Elvis memorabilia and artifacts it loaned to the attraction from the Presley family. Elvis Presley Enterprises isn't involved in the leasing dispute, but it said Westgate aggressively seized the valuables without a legitimate legal basis.

"The Westgate is currently preventing staff from accessing the exhibition space to pack up and bring home these priceless pieces of history," it said in a statement.

The Elvis valuables are secured and being guarded until there's a resolution, Waltrip said.

The dispute centers on the same casino where Elvis performed several hundred shows, back when it was known as the Las Vegas Hilton and The International.

The Westgate attraction — "Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition - The Show - The Experience" — opened in April and was billed as the largest display of Elvis memorabilia outside of his famed Graceland mansion and museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

It included a 28,000-square-foot exhibit that featured a rotating display of Elvis items, including the $1 million-a-year tablecloth contract that Elvis inked to perform at what is now the Westgate and the two-piece black tunic and single-button black suit that he wore for his first performances there.

There was also an Elvis Presley wedding chapel on site, which was featured on NBC's "Today Show" when it hosted its first ceremony last year, with the King's ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, as the bride's surprise matron-of-honor.

The casino said it also revamped a 1,600-seat showroom for new performances of Elvis songs with backup singers and an orchestra.

"We have a considerable amount of money invested in this museum, and they've got to make good on it somehow," Waltrip said of Exhibit A Circle.

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