When Midtown Republican Club president Sam Goff introduced Gordon Alexander he characterized him as someone “not afraid to tilt windmills.”
You might add that Alexander, the president of the Midtown Action Coalition is also a lot like David and Goliath. It all started, he explained, with the proposed tear down of the big Methodist Church on Union.
He and other like minded citizens didn’t win that battle, but it galvanized Alexander into involvement in local Midtown issues. Then the proposal came up to tear down Overton Square, further energizing him.
“There was an 82-year-old waitress at the Cupboard, where I went frequently, named Madge. She had also worked at Burkle’s Bakery when it was part of Overton Square. When she found out about the plans she said ‘over my dead body.'” It was a sentiment he shared.
Alexander went to a meeting about it at Circuit and “came away very disappointed. So I went home and started a facebook page – SOS – meaning Save Overton Square. It went from 505 members to 6,500. We had a conference call
with the owners of Overton Square in Denver and explained to them why it was a bad idea. They scrapped the plans for demolition and sold it to Bob Loeb. Today it has 100% occupancy.”
Wanting to keep the energy of the group, he formed the Midtown Action Coalition in 2010. Since then the group has been involved in the Sears renovation, French Fort issues, keeping the 19th Century Club, the Broad Street redevelopment, the Edge, the Pinch, the Tennessee Brewery and the Coliseum.
“We believe that all prosperous, forward thinking cities are that way because of vibrant neighborhoods,” Alexander said. “And Memphis has a lot of historic register places, behind New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston and DC.”
But, he cautions, they don’t believe in saving just any old building. “We have to make sure an older building is sound and has worthwhile features. We can’t tell an owner what to do, but tell him neighbors must have input. We also work with Memphis Heritage and take time looking at places, such as Justine’s, which Billy Orgel bought.
“You can always breathe life into an old building, but not into a parking lot.” Alexander went on to explain that projects like the Sears Building generate new revenue for the city through taxes. The Sears Crosstown project, for example, will increase revenues 3000%. The Chisca renovation he believes will cause an increase of 2177% and the Tennessee Brewery 2416%. “The 19th Century Club,” he added, “will certainly bring in more property tax revenue than the Taco Bell next door.”
Alexander said he moved to Memphis from Jackson, Mississippi, in 1969. He attended the Memphis Academy of Arts and has always lived in Midtown.
Doesn’t look like his preservation efforts have been in vain or that he will stop the fight any time soon.