City visionary: Brandon Gaitor

When Brandon Gaitor looks at a community, he knows the condition of the properties tells a story about the neighborhood's social conditions. His dedication to helping the city and its people led him to work with Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. where he is creating action plans to battle blight and property abandonment.

 
Memphis is a place full of seemingly tireless people creatively working to push the city forward—grit and grind doesn't just characterize our basketball. In this series, we introduce you to some of the city's visionary leaders who are facing challenges and innovating for solutions.

Brandon Gaitor is just the kind of fighter Memphis needs right now – the mixed-martial arts champion is intelligent, energetic and passionate about championing his city's citizens – and fighting for a better future for the city. At Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., he  is charged with developing comprehensive strategies for city-wide eradication of blight.

Gaitor, 26, has lived in Memphis most of his life and knows first-hand the obstacles and issues this city faces. As part of a military family, Gaitor moved around to various cities as a child, but landed back in Memphis at 12 years old. He attended Ridgeway Middle School and Ridgeway High School and has always considered Memphis to be "home base."

After going away to college at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville, Gaitor said he always knew he wanted to come back to Memphis and work to better the community.

After three years of working for the city at the Health, Education and Housing Facilities Board, Gaitor has recently taken on a new challenge as the Special Projects Manager for Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. (NPI). The organization is the brainchild of George Cates, who serves as Board Chairman, and Steve Barlow, whose law firm, Brewer & Barlow PLC, directs the operations of NPI.  Archie Willis of Community Capital rounds out the NPI leadership team, where he is frequently called upon as an expert in assessing the feasibility of redeveloping vacant properties that others have given up on.

“Collaborative coordination on every level from grassroots to government, that’s my game plan," Gaitor said.

He began his career as an intern at the Health, Education and Housing Facilities Board and was encouraged to take a full-time position and experience work in the public sector. “I discovered that I really had a passion for the City of Memphis and its people. I wanted to see the city grow and dedicated myself as a Project Coordinator. Later I was promoted to Compliance Coordinator, a position that was the engine of that organization," he said.
Brandon Gaitor is just the kind of fighter Memphis need – this Mixed Martial Arts champion fights blight in his hometown.
"I was tasked with making sure the properties receiving tax credits were within the guidelines on their application process. My goal was to help people build a better foundation for themselves. The job offer from NPI is giving a broader platform to do just that.”
                                 
How is working for NPI the helping to fulfill your vision for Memphis?
I believe that the conditions of the buildings and properties that make up our city are a direct reflection of our social connections. In some parts of the city, the structures are beautiful and well landscaped. In those areas the social connection is a thick fiber with everyone intertwined. Social conditions are very well-kept and maintained. In others, the opposite is true. Where the structures are blighted, so are the social conditions.

Who do you admire doing work in the city?
Steve Barlow, of Brewer & Barlow PLC, is one of the unsung heroes of Memphis. Twice a week, he goes to Judge Larry Potter’s Environmental Court to litigate on behalf of the City of Memphis in cases of blighted properties. He has a realistic approach to blight eradication that encompasses the policy level to enable legislation that allows us to deal with long-distance property owners. And at any given time, he is working with 300 or more cases. He has built the Neighborhood Preservation Inc. team.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity for Memphis in the next five years?
I think Memphis has the opportunity to become the number one Sustainable City in the country. We’re headed in the right direction, gaining community support and reaching out through neighborhood associations to be inclusive in our efforts.

What change would you most like to see?
I would like to see an increase in the social connections that build the infrastructure of our communities. Building on the current momentum, I would like to see people celebrating our victories as a city, giving more weight to what we do well. Supporting those endeavors will make Memphis feel like a family again.

What excites you about your work?
I like where I’m from and I’m excited to have an opportunity to work here and make a difference in bringing out the potential in our city.

Whose leadership has had the greatest impact on you?
Hands down, my mother’s leadership has had the greatest impact on me. She made education a priority, and became a business owner (Butterfly Evolution). Her professionalism taught me how to conduct myself and how to achieve my goals.

What’s on the calendar for Neighborhood Preservation, Inc.?
I’ll be working on a Brownfields Grant Program offered by the TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation) and I’ll be working with a committee to make application for technical assistance offered by Community Progress. The latter helps cities that suffer from blight and property abandonment issues by providing an assessment to determine what a city needs the most to help with abandoned properties. The program has proven success in cities such as Atlanta, Cleveland and several cities in Michigan.

What’s one of your favorite things to do in Memphis?
I like to go downtown, park my car and walk. I am constantly amazed at the different kinds of music I hear, from jazz to blues on Beale Street. And my “great escape” is Shelby Farms, where I head to run the trails. I’m looking forward to trying the new zip line this summer.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I’m a regional champion mixed martial arts fighter. This style of combat is the highest form of martial arts.

 

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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